Author Archives: Ermy

Can Social Media be taught?

I have been on the periphery of a few conversations and discussions about the use of social media both for teaching and learning and about use of social media more formally in training and learning. Some partly alluded to in this post.

I am generally of the mind that use of  social media are best considered broadly within communication skills and that there may be some forms of guidance that can be offered, mostly in terms of modelling behaviours, it isn’t a subject that either can or should be taught as a distinct subject matter.

These are my reasons

1) We are still at the early stages of knowing, learning and understanding the possibilities, format and etiquette of interactions which take place online. By ‘teaching’ we codify a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way where the right and wrong should merely be an extension of what we consider to be ethical practice and conduct in all spheres of life and communication.

2) We are confusing the tools and the medium for the content. Platforms come and go – from Usenet, bulletin boards, IRC (Internet Relay Chat), MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Blogs – the media can, does and will change. Teaching someone the basic IT skills to set up a WordPress blog is one thing and can be enormously helpful but teaching them what they should or should not put on it?

I think that’s better left to the community around them. Yes, mistakes will be made but that’s how learning grows. If someone doesn’t realise that disclosing details of a visit on their own blog is counter to professional codes of ethics, it isn’t because they don’t ‘get’ social media, it’s because they don’t ‘get’ professional codes of confidentiality.

3) Identifying self-appointed ‘experts’ who do the ‘teaching’ is a tricky area. What makes someone an ‘expert’ in social media? Is it someone with 5,000 followers on Twitter? Numbers are meaningless – followers can be bought and it’s more important who those followers are. Is an expert someone with a blog that has a following? Well, they might be an expert in writing a particular blog about a particular subject but I don’t think that gives them an authority globally. Or is it an academic that has written extensively on and about social media?Perhaps but it is a sector where the learning by doing is particularly prominent.

Learning about the theory of social networks is fascinating but does it help with the practical implementation? And what is ‘good use’ of social media anyway? Building a supportive network of people who think in the same way? Extending ideas and focus of knowledge? Learning about new research? We have different and fluid outcomes that are personal and individual – so how can a syllabus capture that? I’m not sure. Should it try? That’s a really key question.  If there’s one area that self-directed learning and understanding really should flourish, I suspect it may well be this area.

4) Social Media is about building relationships and trust. No one can teach you to be authentic if you aren’t. No one can build an authority for you. You live or die on the content, information and relationships you build.

5) I worry that by creating a culture of ‘learning’ and ‘teaching’ we are imposing a hierarchy of a system of ‘people who know’ and ‘people who don’t’ into an area that thrives particularly because it is able to break things down.

So how do we learn and ensure that people learn to use these networks safely?

I say by relying on just diving in and perhaps modelling some behaviour around ‘mentors’ – asking and helping as we go. Perhaps when we see people new to these networks we all take a responsibility to offer suggestions and advice.  When I helped someone set up their facebook account, I went straight into the privacy settings with them and explained them.

Sometimes people need to be guided around the etiquette within different networks and forums and a gentle guiding hand can be useful.

My worry is that more formal teaching/learning will lose the instinctive learning-by-doing and learning-by-experimenting which have led to some amazing opportunities.

I’d be really interested in the views of others about this though. After all, we are all still learning. I don’t have the answers and I am willing to be swayed on this as it’s based pretty much on my own experiences and thoughts. So please do feel free to persuade me otherwise!

Reflections from #localgovcamp

I spent Saturday in Birmingham, attending ‘LocalGovCamp’ an ‘unconference for local government’.  I want to share some of my initial thoughts, impressions and reactions and look at ways forward particularly for the social care sector where I work.

This was the third ‘unconference’ I’ve been to but I’ve not been specifically to LocalGovCamp before. As it’s my third, I feel almost like I’m beginning to understand the process but each have their own flavours and soon I realised that the melding of blogging/tweeting anonymously and turning up at events which have an underlying assumption of openness don’t always meld!

There are a lot of people with a lot of confidence, experience and knowledge and they actively want to share. I felt that at times I had to stop and absorb in order to learn and the live tweeting tailed off as I found it difficult to think, tweet and reflect simultaneously. As someone who is a bit ‘arms length’ from my employers, it was good to feel a part of the ‘local government’ community and I think it’s really important that people like me (not necessarily me personally, I’m probably less confident at these things than I should be) who are on the frontline of practice and service delivery attend as we can add something to the mix – I think!  It’s easy to be a bit intimidated around impressive and confident people but everyone was very kind, warm and welcoming.

I attended a number of sessions including one specifically about social care. I was able to get a broader idea and impression of the place of social work within social care and the place of social care within local authority services.

I want to reflect particularly on that for a moment.

The broad theme of social care drew more interest than I’d expected. I think I always assume that there’s little interest in our work in the ‘town hall’ because we don’t get much feedback and feel a bit distant – especially as I’m seconded into a Mental Health team and can’t get my intranet/email from my local authority employers, let alone accessing any of their databases!

I kind of suspect that they forget we exist so even by proxy turning up at broad ‘local government’ themed events maybe tips a few people off that we are out there, visiting people in their homes every day and actively conducting local authority business, implementing the  policy decided in offices and being a crucial contact between the citizen and the organisation.

A lot of opportunities exist at present in the context  of the recently published Adult Care White Paper which pushes a ‘digital by default’ agenda to local authorities in terms of ensuring information is well propagated beyond those who are ‘eligible’ for care services. There are also increasingly going to be stronger pushes forward to ‘ratings’ sites and responses being collated into information that is vibrate and responsive rather than static.

So where is this work going to fall? Will it be a task given within a back office in commissioning or communication departments? Probably.  I made a plea that there is some involvement from the frontline services that currently exist and hope at least that will be considered in parts.

In some ways health are further ahead with more useful information sites and some of those will be rolled out into social care including 111 telephone response services  – I wonder if local authorities really know what they have been tasked to provide at this point.

Social care is an area where work and progress can make an immediate and active positive impact on the lives of those who might not be those who are shouting loudest.  Broadening commissioning will help, as explained in the White Paper and that will be done by broadening conversations about commissioning and honestly about what is working badly as well as what is working well.

One day, I’d love to see some more  senior people within my own council attending events like this.

Could there be a similar event specifically around social care? I’d like to see it. There are a lot of people who have great passion for the sector but the true value in these unconferences, particularly those outside working hours, are that the people who attend are those who choose to and who want to make things better, differently.

It isn’t all about new technology and new media. It’s sometimes about those meetings, those one to one conversations and discussions by people who can inspire and jog each other to promote change in the areas they work in.

A last thought, which is to mention #lgovsm . I attended the session discussing the community that meets ‘on Twitter’ between 8.30pm and 9.30pm on Tuesdays and provides an opportunity to build discussions outside our specific areas of specialism and expertise across local government as a sector.  It was great to meet some of the people behind the conversations and I’m enthused to follow and attend these chats more regularly.

Top down and bottom up conversations are becoming more common as some of the ‘traditional hierarchies’ are being challenged by new ways of communicating–  let’s have more of the cross-sector horizontal conversations. Let’s learn in social care from health, housing, environmental health and street cleaning about ways to engage and grasp the imagination of the public and the sector in terms of promoting new ways of doing things. Let’s learn from our comms teams about how they work and operate and the stories they want to hear from us.  Let’s not hide in a ‘social care’ silo when there is so much information, knowledge, sharing and desire to share with us. Those are opportunities and they should be grasped in any and every way possible.

Let’s make social care and social work work better, but let’s also make local government and local government provided services work better all round. The two are inherently linked and I am passionately committed to being a part of a local authority that delivers the best services it can for all the citizens for whom it works – yes, my ‘specialism’ may well be social care and health but my interest is in involvement and participation at a fair broader level. Thinking ‘holistically’ needs thinking beyond the sector and that’s the joy of these events.

That’s what I learned.  That wasn’t bad for one Saturday in July. I’ll take that.

Thanks to those who organised, coordinated and sponsored this event. It was a pleasure to attend and be a part of it and like a slow cooker, I’m germinating a lot of ideas that I expect will take a good few months to bubble to the top.

Reflections on Digital Health Conference and Hack 2012


I spent a couple of days last week in Leeds, attending the Digital Health Conference and Hack.  I wanted to fill in some initial reflections today and write more about some of the sessions I attended over the coming week.

The Conference

The first day – the ‘conference’ part – was put together with thought and care towards the participants with an excellent balance of speakers, workshops and opportunities to talk to one another (or ‘network’).  Having been to many conferences which have overdone the ‘being spoken to’ elements – particularly in a day – I was genuinely delighted by the opportunity to feedback.

For me, the most interesting aspect of the day was the other participants and attendees. There were people from across the health and social care sector, including users of services provided (although as was pointed out, we are all users to a degree), voluntary sector organisations, technology based companies, commercial organisations and people from national and local government.

One of the themes that jumped out at me most spectacularly was how much was gained by putting us all in a room together where otherwise we might have no opportunities to meet, to create a positive energy (tinged with scepticism of reality to a degree) about what is actually possible to ‘make things better’.

Whether it was a discussion about the Department of Health Information Strategy for Health and Social Care (which will be the subject of it’s own post later in the week!) or a closer look at the Department of Health ‘Maps and Apps’ project or a discussion with clinicians about the way they use social media or a look at the ‘Patient Opinion’ model for providing useful communication and feedback between users and services.

Both ‘Maps and Apps’ and ‘Patient Opinion’ will be moving into the Social Care space directly and for me, it was a useful chance to discuss and think more deeply about the ‘social care’ angle on these processes and how they might directly relate to the work I do clinically on a day to day basis.

The second part of the day revolved around planning, discussions and moving forward but it’s hard for me to get away from the realisation that the most important thing that I took away from the day was inspiration and connections.

I met some truly inspirational people (primarily Claire Jones, the organiser of this event) and had some intensely interesting conversations. I connected with people across the traditional hierarchical structures that we are sometimes constrained by as well as some of the traditional ‘silos’ of interest groups that can be seen to exist within health and social care more broadly.

The Hack

The Hack Day on Saturday was a chance to discuss in more detail some practical ideas and uses for technology at work. The group I worked in provided me with an enjoyable, engaging and thought-provoking discussions. We came from very different angles to look at the problems we faced in working/using/dealing with NHS and Social Care systems and how not only technology but better communication and relationships could solve them.

The projects that were presented at the end of the Hack Day were genuinely useful and provided a chance to see change in action. It isn’t just talk although it’s impossible to underestimate the possibilities of talk.

The Conclusions

My main lessons from the event:-

1) Moving away from top/down and bottom/up models of communication as the sole way of transmitting information and ideas. The real change comes from horizontal as well as vertical chains of discussion. Look at other sectors as well as those at all levels of our own.  How is agriculture managing this? What is education doing? We can get lost in our own world and of course, we need to look across health and social care. It’s a VERY big place. Many people who use and need our services to operate well can tell us best where we need to improve. Skills and knowledge is not a top down transfer.

2) Social Care is in genuine danger of being squeezed out in the ‘Health and Social Care’ debate and discussion. I was gently reminding some of the health people that we existed but I’d love to see more input from the sector and perhaps input more myself.

3) Social Media opens opportunities. I would never have come across this event without it. But sometimes, face to face meetings can reinforce ideas and relationships too.

4) Sometimes just sitting a few people together and talking about ‘making things better’ from completely different ‘starting points’ can be both inspirational and revolutionary. Let’s do more.

5)Leeds is an exciting and beautiful place. I want to move Winking smile

I hope to write more specifically over the week about the ‘Maps and Apps’ project and the Information Strategy for Health and Social Care but all in all, I can’t think of a more satisfying and reinvigorating weekend I’ve spent in a long, long time so can only thank Claire for doing rather than talking about doing.

These are the people who will change the world. Rather than talk about changing the world. Thank you, Claire. Thank you, Leeds. I’ll be back and in the meantime, I’ll be plotting, planning but most importantly, talking.

photo by Leah Makin Photography at Flickr

Reflections on Blue Light Camp #blcamp


Thoughts from an unconference

Last weekend, I found myself in Manchester to attend Blue Light Camp. I went to my first ‘unconference’  GovCamp 2012 earlier this year and was both thrilled and compelled to attend another and booked myself up to go to BlueLight Camp at that point.

The purpose of Blue Light Camp was focused particularly on the use of social media/technology solutions and problems faced by first response services – particularly police, fire, ambulance but including social care and auxiliary services which have attached involvement.

The power of the ‘unconference’ is to (as was said yesterday) to capture more of the networking that happens around more traditional conferences and growing some of the more interesting conversations that develop and pushing them to the centre rather than keeping them at the periphery.

After large scale introductions, the pitches for the sessions started and I could see some of the difficulties in making decisions about where to go.

I started at a session based around ideas in the ‘Art of Deception’ and took part in a fascinating and wide ranging series of conversations about some of the darker forces and concerns about the use of social media as well as drawing and sharing experiences of the benefits.

It’s easy to be swayed and entranced by the power of the digital and new waves of communication but there are still rules and patterns of behaviour to be learnt. Some ‘mistakes’ are made through the spread of misinformation unintentionally but there can also be mischief-makers and worse who can see different ways of spreading and using the power of the tool in malicious ways.

We can (and often do) make mistakes in our uses of social media. Sometimes the best thing to do is to apologise and move on. We should treat our ‘users’, ‘customers’, ‘the general public’ as adults (if they are!) and we will gain more respect through honesty and reliability as a result – but there’s a lot of latent fear of ‘bad use’.

It was a conversation that I continued over lunch with some of the other attendees and one that made me realise how near we are to the beginning of our learning cycles about both potential perils and opportunities afforded to us by our use of networks of communication and that today’s Twitter will be tomorrow’s MySpace. Platforms change,  but ways of communicating change more slowly.

Immediately after lunch, I attended a session on co-production. This is an area possibly where social care are slightly ahead of the game with the push for more user involvement/engagement. What followed was an interesting discussion on how to use the ‘general public’ to have a stake in the services we need and use – even if we are not aware of it – like the fire service. There was a lot we can learn in social care as a whole though from the suggestions shared – such as encouraging engagement and responses through the use of Bubblino.  How do we encourage ‘micro feedback’ and use it in our services as some of the traditional feedback mechanisms (long PDF documents and filling in ‘response’ forms) can be dry and encourage the same people who are time-rich to have the louder voices. It is an area that definitely needs more creative thought and it was useful to share information across different services rather than – to put it bluntly – to reinvent the wheel in an infinite amount of ways.

I  then attended a session of brainstorming about a new potential platform/web site/forum/online space for First Responders to collate and share information outside the silos that are currently in place. It’s an area that interests me particularly as I think we naturally allay into our ‘work based’ personae in order to build protective silos and can easily forget the sometime crucial element of who we are ‘working for’ ultimately.

It’s often seen between and within health and social care. My simplistic solution to some of these problems in the past where they have existed locally is to co-locate training or even visits so that we can meet and understand the ‘people behind the telephone’. Grumbling about ‘district nurses’ is easy but when you know Amy who was very friendly and made you a cup of tea, it’s more difficult to grumble and then, when you have an immediate issue, you make a point of calling Amy because she’s ‘easier to talk to’ than ‘some of the others’ then you can see the differences breaking down.

When Joe from the local police station visited and you had a laugh with him, you’ll feel less intimidated or concerned about calling him over what you might think is a minor issue or question. It doesn’t always work like that of course, but knowing people makes it easier to speak to them about the little things that come up. So that’s how it is face-to-face – can these relationships grow in parallel ways online? I have no doubt. There are some people who I have built up relationships with online and would seek to enter conversations with them to ask questions/support in a more private forum (email/DM) and I can see that happening more frequently. Again, it’s all about trust.

The final session I attended was a fascinating breakdown of information about how twitter in particular  was used during the riots last summer.  Farida Vis, a communications academic who has been researching the use of social media as a part of the Reading the Riots research gave a presentation/initiated a conversation about the way the social media was used in a civil emergency situation. She has written a blog post here which I highly recommend as she explains the premise and results of her research directly.  The slides she spoke from were also shared here. Particularly interesting is the visualisation which she represents about the spread of rumours and the ways the rumours were quelled.

I may well return to a more extensive post about the use of social media during the riots so I won’t feedback more extensively now except to recommend you read the links I shared above.

So after some initial anxiety about attending, I found Blue Light Camp both invigorating and compelling. I have more ideas, more contacts and more incentive to return to work and ‘make a difference’ – what I am struck by is how many motivated, interested and exciting people there are in this sector and how  much we can do when we ignore some of the barriers which are often used to divide us into different sectors.

And I got a blue pig.

Photo1 (2)

So thanks to the incredible organisation team and sponsors. Thanks to all the attendees and thanks for the kindness, friendliness and openness.  It was a compelling and thought-provoking Sunday in Manchester. I hope to be back.

Top photo from Metropolitan Police/Flickr

Opensourcing Professional Social Media Principles for Social Work

I’ve been thinking a lot about the development of principles around use of social media for social workers and social care workers in particular over the last few months.

Having been to events and had discussions with doctors, nurses, occupational therapists and users of services that we all provide, I think there are some great models for the College of Social Work to build on and thought I’d try and offer some thoughts up into the field.

I’m not an ‘expert’ in this area. I don’t honestly think at the moment there are any experts. There are people who use social media in different ways and it’s important that any guidelines are sufficiently flexible both to protect us from ourselves, especially when starting out but also allow very different uses and interpretations both of ‘social’ and ‘media’.

Ideally I’d like an open space for these issues to be discussed by those in the sector to help us decide on what we adopt as guidelines for the profession along with examples.

Is a social work student writing on a locked facebook account about their placement in a different position to someone who has opened their account up?

Is an anonymous account called ‘MysteriousSocialWorker’ subject to the same code as an account named as Jane Smith – Social Worker?

Whatever guidelines are developed they have to encourage and contain all these issues and allow the means to be seen as having an end result some of which will be professionally useful but some of which will cross heavily into ‘personal’ life.

As the use of open social media becomes ingrained in our societal interactions we can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. I heard earlier this year someone tell me they had been advised by a superior not to have any contact with Twitter/Facebook/Blogs either in a personal or professional capacity due to their role. I think we can all see the problems with this, it is not possible to ‘control’ or ‘limit’ this behaviour as it is increasingly a part of normal daily life.

It is also an aspect, certainly as far as I’m concerned, that enriches both my personal and professional life.

So what would I see as important as guidance?

– Be aware of social conventions/power relationships and confidentiality as we would be in a regular conversation aloud to a stranger in a public cafe.

If you are happy telling the person sitting next to you in the pub about what you do and who you are, there’s no reason to fear it particularly in a social media setting – but the limits of oversharing, giving personal information or revealing details of the work you do remain in place.

However, it is easy to overshare in the text-based setting. We can feel more reassured when we are sitting alone and typing into a computer about sharing our more private, more thoughtful moments. Stop and think before publishing. As someone who finds writing a very useful way to reflect, I am aware that not everything written has to be published and not every thought (even ones that may be helpful or interesting to others) needs to be shared.

See the potential of social media as a means for personal and professional growth.

It won’t suit everyone. Some people prefer books to Kindles. Some people prefer auditory to visual stimulation. As I learnt about ‘learning styles’ so we have different communication styles. Some people prefer Pinterest to Facebook. Some people prefer Twitter to longer form blog posts.

There is no and there will be no preferred medium as the different media diversify and we find the networks, groups and associates we feel more comfortable with.

Some people won’t want to engage at all but the opportunities should be there.

Use tools and don’t let the tools enamour you or dazzle you

It’s important to emphasise that the use of social media has to  have a purpose. Be that purpose learning, connecting or entertainment, it’s important not to lose sight of that.

Gaining numbers of followers is a by product not a purpose. Gaining genuine relationships with people with whom you might not otherwise have been able to, that’s a goal. It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers games, I’ve certainly been attentive to my 100th follower and other ‘landmarks’ but the real value is what you do with that, rather than the numbers attained.

It’s easy to believe the hype of the social media ‘bubble’ from within but real influence in a real world setting takes more.

Ethical and Responsible Use and Modelling/Sharing Behaviours

I’ve written this before  but I’ve seen concerning practice of ‘oversharing’ publicly. I’ve also seen (and actually been subject to) bullying type practises that have spilled over into distress in my off-line world. While I use an anonymous moniker for now, it’s important to remain cautious of those who adopt names and who the person is behind the persona.

Equally important to remember that each name and each avatar is a real person with real feelings that can be affected.

Common sense is needed even in these new communication frontiers and opportunities that we are creating but how do we quantify the caution without stymying the potential?

I’m sure I’ll add to this list but I’d love to hear, through the comments of other guidelines which should be added and forwarded to the part of the College of Social Work which will be responsible for coordinating and writing a robust social media policy which is both positive and engaging rather than full of ‘don’t’s.

So please add comments and we can ask the College to read through them and consider them!

Trust, Anonymity and Authenticity

Anonymous #7

Over the last week, well – over the past few months really, I’ve had a few thoughts swooshing around in my head about my use of a pseudonym rather than my ‘real’ name in social  networking or rather on blogs and Twitter.

I use my real name on Facebook, Google Plus and LinkedIn but felt that on Twitter and on blogs I would be too exposed. My desires to explore the medium of social networking both personally but also to increase my professional knowledge and to identify myself as a ‘social worker’ led to my initial reluctance to add my name to my posts.

I have checked out my employers attitudes to my writing which seems to be along the lines of absolutely maintaining confidentiality and not bringing my employer into disrepute but these would be bounds I would keep to regardless, not least because I am bound by a code of conduct by my profession which extrapolates out to all areas of communication including social media.  My managers know I have a blog. They know something vague about Twitter in that it exists but they may or may not read my posts. There are definitely some people in positions of authority both in  my local authority and in my NHS Trust who know exactly who I am and that I use Twitter – although we rarely ‘converse’ directly.

I can’t help feeling that I would be more comfortable attaching my name to my posts if the GSCC had some clear and specific guidance regarding social media but I understand that they are about to be disbanded and this role will remain within the means of the College of Social Work to take forward. And they must.

I see some very concerning uses of social media by people who claim to be social workers and it makes me worry if, by not giving my actual name (which would be checkable against the GSCC as I am a registered Social Worker) I lose some of that trust and authenticity that is so important when sharing information online.  When I see someone with ‘social worker’ or ‘student social worker’ in their twitter profile describing a visit they have attended or encouraging people to expose more personal information about them into a public forum, I worry that by remaining anonymous, I lose some of the trust that people may have in me.

I’m also meeting more people in face to face settings that I have previously only known on Twitter. Obviously, it’s impossible to hide my identity there and there’s something wonderfully refreshing about being able to be open about who and what you are, do and say.

So what am I afraid of? Having established that I feel I operate well within guidelines provided by the GSCC and my employer why the funny cow name and face rather than my real ones?

Firstly I don’t want anything to detract from the work I do on a day to day level. While I would never discuss people I work with in these media, would people whom I am working with who find me and follow me, worry that I might? What would I do if someone I worked directly with ‘followed’ me? Would this be a concern or not? While I’m clear that Facebook requests are refused without second thought – where do the Twitter boundaries fall?

I don’t want to be a ‘star’ social worker (I’m not, by the way, saying I would be if I were to attach my name here but I am turning my hand increasingly to writing).  I want to be a social worker that promotes the profession positively and yes, I’ll have some conversations on Twitter about whether Pandas are better than Crocodiles but that shouldn’t impact on  my professional status. Indeed, the way the world is going, I feel it is increasingly difficult to divide ourselves into ‘work’ and ‘free time’ entities.  We become the mass of what we do, how we communicate and moreover how we are perceived.

I see doctors,  nurses and occupational therapists increasingly using their own names in these fora and I do wonder if I have been overcautious and I would actually gain far more by ‘coming out’ than I could ever potentially lose.

I’m moving away from ‘anonymity’ as a default and my defence of pseudonymity  is fading.  I feel comfortable standing publicly by the words I publish and I write as if I had my name attached in any case.

However, I am aware than once I cross ‘that line’ I can never go back.

I’d be interested in the thoughts of others. As is probably obvious, I am moving towards a public identification of my writing online but would welcome thoughts, comments etc before I finally make the ‘leap’.

This is a way that the world is changing. I think a point comes where in order to gain trust you may well need to have a name attached.

Why Social Care needs Social Media

… And Why Social Media needs Social Care

This week, I was fortunate enough to attend a couple of events as a part of Social Media Week London. Ideally, I’d like to have attended more but combining evening activities with a full time job can be difficult to pace at the best of times.

The two events I went to, one about Blogging specifically and the other about use of Social Media by Nurses and Midwives were very different.

One took place in the downstairs room of a pub. The other in a flash office in central London. I’ll leave you to guess which was which.

Both had an underlying theme though – and that was the positive value of conversation and interaction that is entered into when media becomes social media.

It left me thinking about what needs to change both in Social Care (and more specifically, Social Work) to enable the positives to be accentuated while both practitioners and users of these services remain safe and within professional boundaries.

I considered the three networks than can improve work practice. How I use them and how they can be used.

Professional to Professional

We can build networks of conversation across social work and social care which can enhance knowledge and professional practice. Some examples of this might be both Twitter Chats (#swscmedia #sm4sw #nurchat) but also networks built based on forums such as Community Care’s CareSpace, KnowledgeHub and their specific interest groups relating to Social Care (I’m in a few Mental Health and Safeguarding Adult Groups) and the GSCC forum which is locked to those registered to the GSCC. There are also LinkedIn networks such as the Advanced Social Work Practitioners Network and Groups on Facebook such as the Masked AMHP page.

These have and can be immense sources for support and information. I believe they can also, particularly useful in a profession like social work which has been poorly served by ‘leaders’ who may seem sometimes more focussed on self-aggrandisement than professional representation they can firm up a professional identity and sense of ‘belonging’.

There is also a much freer flow of information between university academics and researchers and front line practitioners which has allowed me access and information about the most current research which has significantly fed into my practice knowledge and understanding.

Within these criteria these spaces are usually inhabited by those who are aware of professional codes of ethics.

In the absence of such specifics, it is obvious that even behind a closed network, no confidential information should ever be shared and that bullying of other users is just as unethical as it would be in ‘real life’. Hiding behind an anonymous user name does not excuse poor conduct. I’ve seen all these ‘precepts’ being broken by people professing to be ‘professionals’ online.

Professional to User and Vice Versa

I’m being a bit lazy with use of the distinction between ‘professional’ and ‘user’. Not least because it is entirely possible to be both. However the context in which I am referring to this here is where a personal self-identifies as someone within a particular profession and someone (not necessarily known to them) may seek them out for guidance on the basis of that professional role.

It might be a general call out for information on aspects of the Mental Health Act (1983 as amended 2007). I know I’ve responded to those kinds of requests on Twitter.

However in the absence of specific social media guidelines from the GSCC, I refer to those used by the NMC (Nursing and Midwifery Council) about not using social media or social networking sites to build or pursue relationships with people for whose care you are responsible or were ever responsible.

Though social media can be used to share information and we shouldn’t be afraid to signpost information. One of my sadnesses (and joys) was to hear about nurses talk about positive use of social media to inform and share factual information to people who might find it more accessible.

Some twitter chats and fora again open up to users and professionals in different ways but if they do and if they are intended to, I think it’s important that they are accessible and open to users by remaining jargon free and informative rather than building further divides in both knowledge and power between those who work in social care and health and those who need those services.

Multi-Disciplinary Forums

This was one area I’d have liked to discuss in more length at the Nursing and Midwifery Council event because for me, it’s been one of my sharpest learning curves in social media and my own professional development.

Too often we hear about ‘health’ ‘social care’ being divided and these social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Blog platforms, Forums, LinkedIn and I could go on, allow me to build links with those in health, and policing, and law and communications and for us all (I hope) to grow more knowledgeable and understanding as a result.

I’ve personally benefited immensely from the Twitter Chats at #nhssm and ‘#lgovsm as well as #polmh from Mental Health Cop. I have found in my professional life that silos are best broken by personal relationships which are made and formed and being able to see these ‘other professionals’ as people before representatives of ‘Nursing’ or ‘Occupational Therapy’ or ‘Social Work’ or ‘Ambulance Staff’ or ‘Academics’.

This is a real way that social media can benefit understanding in the delivery of better care for those who use and need our services and that has to be the outcome that we are all looking for.

And of course, my own witterings at Not So Big Society involve a collaborative element between social workers and nurses!

The Future

There’s a well known saying that the past is another country but then, so is the future. I think the future is very exciting. I’d love to see the College of Social Work establish some guidelines for professionals in the use of social networking in similar lines to the NMC.

I know that we should be able to extrapolate out these guidelines from the current Code of Practice but I feel that more guidance is needed to protect social workers and social work students as well as users of social work services – for clarity and to ensure and promote safe practice.

In the meantime, I’ve said it before and will again, pseudonym or not, be sensible. If you identify yourself as a professional, behave like you. Blog, Tweet, Link as if your name was attached. If you are not happy with that, think about what you are posting/writing before you press send.

Thoughts from #UKGC12

This weekend, I went to an ‘unconference’ for the first time. I attended UKGovCamp 2012 at Microsoft’s London Headquarters on Saturday. UKGovCamp ran over Friday and Saturday (I am a bit tight on the annual leave so only attended on the Saturday).

Worth looking through a few other posts about the event here, here here and here – with an summary of a session about Social Media and Whitehall here. (I didn’t attend that session as it was on Friday but I think there are a lot of issues that resonate with people working in local government at the ‘frontline’ as well).

It is quite a staggering experience to be alongside people from so many different walks and paths in life who converge on a physical location to discuss, plan, brainstorm and problem-solve around similar topics. In this forum the discussions were around people working in the public sector and issues relating to it although the definitions were helpfully quite broad.

The first part of the day (and I’m only referring to the Saturday here!) involved everyone introducing themselves in a large room. Then people ‘bid’ or presented the sessions they wanted to run.

The problem for me, was that there was an embarrassment of riches – too many people to talk to and too many topics I want to discuss. I will write up some of my learning from the individual sessions and particular conversations at a different time.

My main learning points were possibly more ethereal than many there – particularly as I attended on the ‘doing’ day where solutions were being planned which probably wasn’t my forte to be blunt.

While I’d love to follow the bullet point format for ease of reading, I’m afraid I couldn’t manage it so here are more longer learning points!

– I met many enthusiastic and visionary people in and around government – not necessary (rarely) at management levels but people willing to spend an entire Saturday in London (no small cost regarding travel/hotels for some) to talk about making things work better for the people who use and need our services.

– I found a pleasant ‘niche’ of people very interested and involved in the social care sector which made me feel less out of place to be there and convinced me of the importance of front line practitioners to take a real interest in the ways that technology and creative thinking can change our practice and ‘make things better’ and use these skills to add our expertise rather than wait for systems to be delivered to us and then gripe about them.

-I don’t think I’ve ever attended an event where everyone else in the session had a Twitter ID and where everyone was comfortable with others tweeting/typing during the session (sounds trite but actually, Twitter is a very useful way to engage in post-conference chat as it allows open conversations/sharing links/books/articles in an easy way and doesn’t demand the same intensity as a ‘one to one email chat’)

– I met some people who work in wholly different fields who really challenged my assumptions about the ways things work in our sector and helped me to imagine difference and see it as real. This is a really important lesson for social care and social work. We need to see difference beyond the individual and in societies and organisations.

– It was great being around people who lack some of the cynicism of work in the public sector. Which is, despite what the government would have us believe, a fantastic place to work.

– While there is a massive amount of work that can be done to build and make connections and have discussions in the social media space, particularly around accessibility, sometimes it just can’t beat a face to face discussion.

-There’s no such thing as too many plug points when everyone has at least a phone and a laptop/tablet.

-It’s really really good to be around ‘geeks’. They are some of the most friendly people around.

– Me + table with free pens = New pen supplies for the next year. Sorry guys. Irresistable to a social worker used to working in an open plan office where black pens last an average of 3  mins when left on a desk. Even in these days of ‘paperless’ working.

I have a lot more to ponder on when I get time. I think there’s a lot of change going on in service delivery and we have to try and be involved and make links across organisations between the tech teams and the front line teams else our needs are left behind. I could get hooked on unconferences too. Despite being a long day, I feel fresher than I have for a long time about going back into work tomorrow and ‘making things better’ at a macro as well as micro level.

And finally, but most important of all – I met some really really fantastic people doing really fantastic things. I hope to write more about that over the next week and weeks. Thanks to everyone I met and who welcomed me into the ‘govcamp’ family. I’ll be back!

Next stop – BlueLightCamp in April in Manchester! I would encourage other social workers and frontline social care staff (as well as all in emergency services) to attend. Let’s make it work and let’s make us and our services work better!


The title of this blog is ‘Connecting Social Care and Social Media’ and this post by the excellent Mental Health Cop reminded me of the importance of the very first word, ‘connecting’.

What is it that needs to be connected or more importantly who is it that needs to be connected? This, for me, is one of the key factors in my continued use of social media outlets.

What is the appeal of the social over the mainstream? It’s the connections that we make. It is the connections that can have higher barriers to climb in less egalitarian settings.

As someone who has been working in social care for more years than I’d like to relate, I can see tangibly how these connections have improved my own practice and how they have the potential to change the landscape in social care (as well as other areas) for many years to come.

We are on the precipice of changing paradigms of communication and it is exciting but it’s important that we remember it that the goal is ‘connecting’ not talking.

Who do we connect with?

We begin to connect with each other. We find others who do similar things to us or who work in similar ways or who have similar politics. People in ‘our worlds’ who we can relate to and have easier conversations with and with whom we can share news stories, information or chatter.

Then we connect with people who might work in similar or related fields – the police, lawyers, academics, doctors, nurses but also those within the public sector who are linked to us whether in private organisations or the public sector – by connecting social care with social media we can explain the stories behind the headlines and the role and importance of social care in the fabric of a functioning society.

Most importantly though, we connect with those who use the services we provide. I have seen a drift towards a professionalism in social work which is all very good but it should never come at the price of building barriers between ‘professionals’ and stakeholders in the profession. I see the ability to communicate more freely and openly with those who use the services we provide to be one of areas to promote social work.

How do we connect?

‘Social Media’ is more than a blog, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Social Media is a means of communication which allows more accessible two-way dialogues. It includes newsgroups, forums, social bookmarking sites. Increasingly I think we are moving to a place where sifting information becomes more valuable than finding information but the key to social media is the social. We are people behind a screen and the relationships which we make are real. I’ve met a few people with whom I’ve only had contact via a screen and made real ‘off-screen’ relationships but the dichotomy between ‘online’ and ‘offline’ is becoming harder to separate and are merging.

Why do we connect?

My perhaps oversimplistic answer is to ‘make things better’. I see faults in the systems that I work in and I want to improve them. Having conversations with experts, users who access the services, carers, colleagues in other locations, in other countries can refine thinking about planning for the future.

Social Work has been in crisis for as long as I’ve been in Social Work but I try to remain hopeful. I hope we can push the profession back towards a true advocacy role and towards the promotion of social justice. We have more tools at the ready and more voices to use.

Social Work is built on relationships. We have new ways to build these relationships and new ways to open communication channels.

Looking ahead to the new year it’s important that those in this area of work or with an interest in it, use these means to promote not just the profession but much more importantly, those who rely on social care services who are yet to find voices.

We are living in interesting times and the social care sector can’t afford to be left behind because those relying on it need these voices. Not all, of course, many users are far more adept than most professionals but I work in an area where there are a lot of the quieter voices who ‘don’t want to make a fuss’. I see it as a part of my professional ethics to provide, promote and advocate for those who might not be replying to government consultations or participating in user-led groups.   I also see it as a professional duty for me to take responsibility for my own learning and to understand the world and the ways it is changing better.

While ‘social media’ isn’t a panacea – perhaps ‘connecting’ is. We need more connections and this is another tool to use to connect.

Thoughts on Achieving Social Media Maturity

I read this post about the ‘Five stages of social media maturity’ which made it’s way onto my Twitter stream a few days ago and found it particularly interesting.  One of the things, by the way, I love about Twitter is the way that by expanding the people I follow, I constantly get ‘hit’ by fresh and different information.

Anyway, it’s  from PR Weekly and in a field that I am wholly unfamiliar with but the basic premise is that within organisations there are five ‘stages’ to go through to reach the elusive ‘social media maturity’. This is taken from a report published by Forrester Research.

The five stages are

1. Dormant – Resistant to any use of social technologies due to unwillingness to participate

2. Testing – Individuals or departments test in isolated pockets

3. Coordinating – Management begins to coordinate across teams and departments

4. Scaling and Optimization – Organisational shift towards growing and improving social applications

5. Empowering – Organisation fosters all relevant employees; fosters and rewards top performers.

While I like this model for organisations, I’ve been pondering about how we achieve ‘social media maturity’ as individuals too and wonder if there is a parallel model.

Obviously when we are referring to people, personalities become a key point but I thought of the five stages of social maturity for individuals could be relevant too, in terms of understanding the process of finding new ways to communicate. We are all of us learners.

So my equivalent ‘stages’ are

1. Dormant – this would be the scepticism before we ‘jump in’. You know, the ‘Facebook is for stalkers’ or ‘Twitter is just people saying what they had for breakfast’ type approach. It’s easy to understand because it’s human nature to fear and feel sceptical about what we don’t understand. Until we know something, we can’t understand it.

2. Testing – these are the first steps we take into the new ‘online’ world – whether it’s forums, or bulletin boards, Twitter, Facebook or mySpace, we (and the speed depends somewhat on the personality) begin to try things out. We begin to take things (and ourselves) too seriously at times. We suffer from this. We get into flame wars. We test the limits including our own.

3. Coordinating (Building links) – this is what I’d call branching out and is one of the first stages of ‘understanding’. It comes from building links of use to others and working out the etiquette (oh, remember when it used to be called netiquette!) of the social environments. Using the jargon attached appropriately and moving beyond entertainment and novelty towards utility and information.

4 Scaling and Optimization (Branching Out) – This would be about building new networks, using different platforms. Trying things out and using the skills and base that has been created to create your identity and differentiate it. You are, by now, using the tools to gain and share information as well as to entertain. There is no ‘right’ way or ‘wrong’ way but there are social norms to adhere to and you are mastered them. Never, of course, forgetting the importance of the person behind the screen both on your own side and on the other side.

5. Empowering – I like the term ‘empowering’ so will continue to use it in this new model. It is about not only using the means well for your own purposes but helping others to learn along their path. Learning that sharing is more important than giving and information is not a limited commodity owned by particular institutions over others.

I’m not an expert by any means. I think I’d place myself in the third or fourth category but I’d be interested in the opinions of others about what the stages might be and if they are transferable to individuals as well as organisations.