Category Archives: Talk Social Care

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!

Funding, Social Innovation and Social Care

This post was initially triggered by a Twitter discussion last week with Toby Blume chief executive of the Urban Forum who was attending the People Powered Change event #ppchange organised by the Big Lottery Fund. There have in recent months been a number of new social innovation initiatives with funding provided by diverse organisations. When I was running a charity I was very aware of the time and resources required to submit funding applications and to satisfy the funder’s requirement for demonstrating the outcomes of a project.

It feels like there is a real need for more joined up and connected thinking across the public, third, social enterprise and private sectors. The lines are becoming increasingly blurred in terms of who delivers front line public services. There is the real danger of duplication which was highlighted in the newly published Audit Commission report: Joining up health and social care Improving value for money across the interface.

As an example of the time being spent on submitting funding applications @DameHilaryBlume provided the following calculation. There were 1401 applications to the Silver Dreams Fund. Assuming 5 days work was required to complete the application that equates to 28 years of one person’s work. Rattling a tin for charity in the same time period could raise £1.4million assuming that £200 in donations could be raised in a 7 hour day.

@PeterWanless Chief Executive of the Big Lottery Fund responded by making the fair comment that “these figures assume a traditional application form and process. Silver Dreams is a call for ideas which organisations are then supported and paid to to develop. The serious investment will come when the best ideas are selected”.

It is worth looking at the Big Lottery Funding page. They are funding an impressive range of programmes across the UK and giving grants from £300 to over £500,000 to organisations ranging from small local groups to major national

Some of the recent funding initiatives relevant to social care (please feel free to add to the list)

The Silver Dreams Fund is pioneering ways to help vulnerable older people deal more effectively with life-changing events. The Big Lottery Fund is making a £110 million investment in older people in association with the Daily Mail.

Living Well with Dementia the Design Council and the Department of Health are running a competition to rethink life with dementia. The challenge is to help people with dementia and their carers live easier, better planned and more enjoyable lives. There were 150 applications and 5 ideas were selected which will be funded to deliver their working prototypes by March 2012.

Keeping Connected Business Challenge – the Design Council and the Technology Strategy Board competition to develop innovative services that keep older adults better connected through a £495,000 fund. 9 projects have been selected for stage 1 of the Keeping Connected Business Challenge

The Innovation in Giving Fund run by NESTA with the Office of Civil Society issued an open call for ideas to the £10m Innovation in Giving Fund. Proposals were invited which had the potential to deliver a significant increase in the giving and exchange of time, assets, skills, resources and money. They received well over 400 applications and shortlisted 62 applicants to go through to the next selection phase.

Interesting questions and thoughts were shared on Twitter from the People Powered Change event and it is worth reading the Storify of the Workshop @johnpopham

Some comments from Twitter:

@willperrin Lets have a giant discussion forum for people applying to lottery bidsavingexpert maybe
@cased: How do we use funding to build local networks at scale instead of creating 2 way dependency relationships?
@dansutch -171 thousand charities spend £2.6bn on fundraising and PR to get £4.5bn in individual donations-broken equation
@judehabib ‘it’s all about storytelling.. Charities can’t afford not to make most of their stories’
@Andy_Malone Exploring how grant funding can be more than just a source of finance and how it can help support community action

I would like to explore:

How all of these initiatives and projects are being embedded in local communities and what are the links being made with social services, health organisations and the Health and Wellbeing Boards?

Keeping track of all the social innovations in social care underway is a challenge – do we need a central portal which links all of the initiatives or as Will Perrin suggests a discussion forum to support organisations in making funding bides?

Would it make sense to try and standardise funding applications?

I have been told by many small organisations that they are unaware of, and have difficulty in keeping track of, all the funding initiatives. I have promoted the excellent NCVO Funding Central guide to grants, contracts and loans which includes a regular eletter.

How else can we help signpost the information and advice that is available?

Would it be useful to research how much time organisations are spending on funding applications generally? The resources required to submit funding applications is a big issue especially for small and start up organisations.

I would be interested in hearing the thoughts of people who use services and carers organisations about their involvement in these projects and what other support services they would like to see being developed.

Social Media and Social Care/ Work Education

Social Media

In advance of the SWSC media ‘Twitter Chat’ on the use of social media in social work and social care education, I thought it was a good time to pull together some of my own thoughts as a frontline social worker about using social media to learn both formally and informally and what using ‘social media’ has meant to me as a social worker and how I have practically used ‘new media’ forms to promote my own learning in the field.

While Martin Webber has written about how he uses Social Media in Social Work Education as an academic and Jackie Rafferty has given us a historical context about the use of social media (or technology as it used to be called) in social work education – I thought it would be useful to add my own insights as a current, frontline practitioner who is not currently enrolled on any formal post-qualifying programme. Education is something that we, as practitioners have to take responsibility for and ensure it doesn’t just happen ‘to us’ when we are enrolled in specific courses. Education and learning happens around us and we need to take responsibility for it ourselves to become the best and most up-to-date practitioners that we can be.

I participated in a #lgovsm chat a few weeks ago which had the use of social media in social care as a ‘theme’ and provides some interesting background to the issue as a whole, I want to explore the subject in terms of my own learning as a neonate in parts who is experimenting with a lot of different forms.

The important distinction between media and social media is conversation and two-way discussion. As a practitioner, I see opportunities to have a voice and to feedback with academics, managers and service users in ways that have not been possible before. Using these methods wisely gives us more control over the direction of our profession and the leadership that we demand, rather than allowing those self-appointed leaders whose agendas are sometimes seem to be more around self-promotion than the sector itself.

I wrote a broad post about why I think Social Workers should use social media and some of the challenges that we might face.

There is though a difference between uses for different purposes and I see my use of social media as a way to both promote my own learning through conversations and links but also to educate others about social work and social care as an ‘ambassador’ for the sector.

I want to explore the different methods I use, have tried and have found useful (or not). I’d love feedback about what others have found through their own trials and errors!

Dell Connected Classroom


Online communities and forums are some of the older types of social ‘discussions’. It was from the early days of email lists and Usenet groups that the internet sprung in those heady days before the World Wide Web had been created. The heart of these first forums – which tended to exist in academic communities (as universities had the hardware needed to run the networks) – was one of open sharing of information and discussions. Academics could ping ideas to students in universities across the world. It was about being a part of a knowledge community. In some ways, forums are the core of sharing. They allow interaction and static postings to hold information and links. Often they develop their own cultures and communities. We can look at the way Community Care’s CareSpace has grown to see that there is value in professionally based communities – but it is easy for powerful voices to ‘take over’ groups.

We can see how a useful resource is only as powerful as the members it attracts and the ways that they use it.

Forums are also generally a form of ‘top down’ trickling. Organisations/hosting companies/individuals start forums and often they create their own hierarchies but used well and responsibly, they can be one of the strongest learning and communication tools. Closed and limited forums have a particular use and it’s important to differentiate between open and closed and to find the value and strengths in each.

I am a member of an email ‘yahoo group’ devoted to the Mental Health Act and Mental Capacity Act and while there are significant ‘voices’ it is one of my best resources in keeping up to day on Mental Health and Mental Capacity Law.

But if you take anything from this post, you will check out the ‘Communities of Practice for Public Service’ and join their free discussion groups . I have gained a broad base of knowledge, access to free webinars and have found endlessly helpful groups of people in relation to social care and social work that it has been an absolute gem of information to me and helps me grow and learn as a practitioner.

More open forums, like the one at Community Care allow for different voices to join in and should never be discounted. Often the key in learning within the world of ‘social media’ is about developing skills to sort the wheat from the chaff – and to never take a disagreement personally!


I’ve written posts at the Not So Big Society as well as here and  have to admit having a fondness for the long form post. It can help with elucidating ideas beyond short phrases and can act as a repository for groups of ideas. Communities can grow around blogs. There are many different blogging platforms but they are enormously accessible and the world of social work blogging is developing and becoming more sophisticated as the form develops. One of the joys I’ve found about both reading and writing blogs is the ability to comment in threads on posts which ‘keeps’ the conversation static.

As far as education and training go, they can be good for reflection and discussion of research and for keeping up to date with news and policy issues. The benefit of a blog is that it can be whatever the author chooses it to be and gaining immediate feedback is something that can challenge and promote and disseminate ideas.

We learn through both reading, commenting and writing. It is a potentially powerful tool for a practitioner to share their voice and insights ‘from the frontline’.


Twitter and similar micro-blogging platforms show their strength in providing an open, democratic – if somewhat chaotic – platform for driving together ideas and information. You can challenge people directly on Twitter and you can collaborate and build knowledge, understanding and learning. This blog is a case in point as I only ‘met’ Shirley through Twitter but our connection has led to an immense amount of learning on my part.

My most positive uses of Twitter in forms of gaining knowledge are in respect to conversation and content curation. Having access to social work managers, academics, practitioners in different areas and in my own field across the world has opened up my mind to different possibilities and ways of doing things. I can ask a question about a piece of policy and receive answers from those who might have been responsible for creating it. I am pushed towards interesting articles and thoughts and I can build links with service user groups in ways that were not possible previously as power is stripped away to a great extent.

The democracy of Twitter charms and educates me. The cream rises to the top but there are limits to the medium. 140 characters. Writing concisely is an art form though and it does help sharpen the mind.


Facebook is where the ‘eyes’ are and most people I know have Facebook pages. It is a useful tool to build groups and discussions as long as privacy settings are acknowledged. Personally, I don’t use my Facebook page for professional knowledge and growth but that’s my choice and there is no reason not to as long as you use the page as if your parents/children/boss/service user were able to read it and bear that in mind when you write. Particularly Facebook groups can be useful in particular circumstances but it’s important to remember the limits of the form. It’s easier to let down your guard if your friends are doing the same.

Google Plus

I’m going slightly left-field here and saying that I think there is a role for Google+ in education. Similar privacy issues exist as they do with all these networks but it has the ability to create ‘hangouts’ – group voice and video chat and it allows many more options to ‘group’ people and information according to whether someone is a close friend, acquaintance, work colleague or family member. Facebook has developed these but as someone who likes to separate personal from professional, it allows another platform for me.

It is still at an embryonic stage at the moment but I’ve found it useful to tinker with and think there’s potential scope if people do seek an alternative to Facebook to build connections and build conversations.

There isn’t enough traction to have promoted it as a true educational tool yet, but I’m biding my time.


Personally, I’ve never really ‘got on’ with LinkedIn – I dabbled briefly but it didn’t seem to be functioning well for me. That isn’t to say it isn’t enormously helpful for others but it seemed to be very ‘top down’ in focus, building on heirarchies and I saw no benefits that I did not gain from forums. It focuses on creating a professional ‘brand’ and I’m not sure how well that fits with front line statutory social work but I can see a role for those who wish to promote their brands and ideas across more traditional business sectors. Maybe I’m just not as invested in it as others but I wouldn’t rule anything out as having potential in the future or for different groups of people.

Within the statutory setting, I’ve found the Communities of Practice far more valuable as a learning tool but that’s a personal decision that I’ve made and would be interested to hear about other experiences.

There are other means that I haven’t mentioned but these are the first that sprang to mind – please do contribute in the comments with others and with thoughts about these forms and particularly, bring up your thoughts in the Twitter Chat on Tuesday 29th November run by SWSCmedia!

There are other platforms such as Second Life that I’ve never even attempted but perhaps a game-based platform isn’t as strange an idea as it initially might sound. I suspect that might be some way off though if we’re still trying to encourage people to join forums and contribute to blogs!

SL - National Educational Technology Plan, Public Forum, 2009

Education in Social Work and Social Care has never been something I feel I should be ‘given’ by a place of learning but in order to benefit, I have to truly engage myself in the learning process and more and more, I have learnt to take responsibility for my own learning – especially as council budgets are being squeezed and access to training is limited.

Social Media gives me as a practitioner a chance to build and make my own training and education opportunities and to challenge some of the status quo about trickle down ‘drip drip’ of knowledge.

I use these different methods to inform and research my own understanding, to develop a wider range of skills that I can use in practice and to ensure I take learning seriously as a personal and professional responsibility.

We all owe it to ourselves to become the best and the most knowledgeable practitioners that we can be. Social media provides a tool. We do not need to wait to be ‘given’ knowledge but we can search it out, challenge it and benefit from it ourselves.

Use it. I know I am!

Information overload for social care?

I have been impressed and, to be honest slightly overwhelmed, by the number of new personalisation and social care publications launched at the Children and Adult Services Conference 2011 last week. Excellent information and case studies but I do wonder who will have the opportunity to read, digest and act upon all of the many conclusions and recommendations. My starting point for this post was helpfully provided by Jackie Rafferty asking the question “what support do I need to live as independently as possible?

One of the key publications for me is the Think Local Act Personal Partnership (TLAP) “Making it Real: New citizen-led approach for councils, organisations and people to check progress with personalisation and community-based support” This provides a set of statements from people who use services and carers which set out what they would expect, see and experience if personalisation is working well in an organisation. The markers will help organisations involved in commissioning and delivering care and support- from councils to providers of in-home, residential or nursing care – to look at their current practice, identify areas that need improvement and develop plans for change.

In early 2012, everyone involved in care and support will be able to go to the TLAP website to declare their commitment to use Making it Real as a way of showing they are committed to personalisation and be awarded the TLAP logo. An approach to assess the quality of an organisations declaration and use of a TLAP logo is currently being tested. There will also be a nationally-led citizen survey which will allow citizens to feedback on an organisations progress against the markers. The Care Quality Commission are undertaking a mapping exercise to see how the markers fit with relevant essential standards of safety and quality.

How will progress be evaluated – what are the Key Themes and Criteria?

1) Information and Advice: having the information I need, when I need it

2) Active and supportive communities: keeping friends, family and place

3) Flexible integrated care and support: my support, my own way

4) Workforce: my support staff

5) Risk enablement: feeling in control and safe

6) Personal budgets and self-funding: my money

My recent report ‘The future for personalisation? service users, carers & digital engagement’ produced in collaboration with The Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services highlighted the many charities and social enterprises who are using social media channels to provide innovative responses to the need for social care information and support. In contrast there is a real need for managers and leaders within public service organisations to develop and extend the empowerment of front-line staff, to support their engagement with people and communities.

It does occur to me that it would be useful to have some benchmarks now to share current good practice and social innovation in social care. “The marketplace for social care good and services is likely to continue evolve as the online marketplaces mature, as the mainstream providers players extend their offering and as service users continue to exploit the opportunities for networking afforded by social media. Because of its inherent decentralised, or bottom-up, nature, social media may offer the key to sustainability.”

The support that each person requires to live independently is unique and can be provided in many different ways. I believe our biggest challenge is connecting people, ideas and knowledge across the whole of the care sector to make a reality of person-centred care. And as a matter of urgency we need to simplfy and demystify the language of social care!