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.