This is a guest post from Mary McKenna, keynote speaker at MOMOCon 2016. It talks about why innovation in the sector matters, and why its worth the effort to implement innovative solutions.
Last week I spoke at the inaugural Mind of My Own (MOMO) conference. I talked about the role of technology in improving social care services for the children and young people who use them. I’m a supporter because in my view, anything that helps improve the quality of communication from the young person’s perspective and management of caseload and engagement from the social worker side is a good thing.
Pillars and Foundations
Back in 2006 I started a business based on a vision of collaboration and sharing across the public sector. There are many barriers to making this happen but it is possible. Even though I’ve worked previously on wide scale channel shift across UK local government, Children’s Services isn’t my specialist area so my talk last week leaned heavily on a recent and excellent thought piece by Suffolk County Council’s Assistant Director of Commissioning, Richard Selwyn. It’s called “Pillars & Foundations” and you can access the full report here. If you work in Children’s Services and you’re interested in thinking about how technology might solve some of your wider challenges, then reading Richard’s short paper is a good start.
I believe wholeheartedly in technology as a powerful change agent. We’ve seen what happens in so many other industry sectors when extreme resistance to change through technology exists:
- film processing (Kodak)
- travel industry – transformed to self service model
- newspapers – dying off daily
- taxi services (Uber and the like)
- high street shops – Woolworths, BHS
This topic was too much ground to cover in a 20 minute talk but the benefits of a more proactive approach and smarter use of technology right across the entire sector are clear to see. This blog is to get people in the sector thinking about innovation and more importantly, why it matters & why it’s worth bothering.
The Department for Education’s latest figures show that 370,000 children and young people in the UK are in receipt of some type of formal intervention from the State. However, the real number requiring support is much, much higher than this. Richard Selwyn in his report mentions that only 1 in 8 young carers are identified, only 1% of school age children receive any type of formal mental health intervention although 24% are thought to have some sort of need and social workers themselves have said when surveyed that they can only service 20% of the need that they see.
Social workers are therefore faced with a ticking time bomb of increasing need in a time when there’s much less money and they are attempting to service an audience who communicate with each other in a fundamentally different way to how public servants communicate. So whilst councils think they have a win moving from snail mail letters to email, I don’t know a single teenager who either uses email or makes telephone calls. It just isn’t how they do things.
The challenge: summarised
The challenge can be summarised as finding ways to provide children and families with cheaper, earlier help that reduces demand for more expensive support further down the line.
But – because of the way that local authority budgets work, any innovation introduced has to generate tangible return on investment and pay for itself in a very short space of time.
Oh – and there’s no budget to permit you the time, resources and money you need to prototype and test properly or to try out much needed new business models.
Terrifying, frankly – and I’m way off the scale in terms of my own attitude to risk.
Finally – in terms of challenge – in the world of children’s social care, the light shines on you only when something dreadful has happened and that adds a whole different level of complexity to everything you do or try to change.
The Near Future
Whether any of us like it or not, we’re living in an age where service provision is moving from the public to the private sector and from State to volunteers/the community (that awful label Big Society that we’ve all heard bandied about at every opportunity).
For social care teams, working out how to make this future blend work is key.
Richard Selwyn’s report mentions that by 2020 (less than 4 years away), Children’s Services departments will be half the size they were in 2010. The cynics amongst us may say that forecast is an optimistic one. Much uncertainty exists around expecting e.g. schools, pharmacists, fire officers, etc to take on more of the traditional social care provision.
A few pilots are already in place and worth a look. Age UK Cheshire – whilst in a different part of social care – is piloting an early intervention fire prevention drive with elderly people, as they’ve realised that that part of society starts many fires accidentally. Proactive measures for later payback. Some of you may be aware of similar pilots in Children’s Services and it would be great if you could post the links in the comments section below.
One thing is certain – the role of the local authority will change. Anyone who doubts that just has to look at the way the NHS has increasing influence over adult services.
Co-Production, Whole Systems Approach and Multi-Agency Working
Many see this as the way forward. Adur and Worthing council is working on what they call a civic infrastructure. An environment that allows the local authority to become a more permeable entity that facilitates and signposts rather than provides.
The Signs of Safety model that Suffolk County Council imported from Australia is basically a co-production variation where the social worker helps families to rally their existing social support networks and learn better how to help themselves.
The Buurtzorg model of care from the Netherlands is being piloted at various sites across the UK.
Leicestershire Community Health Service along with the Police and their audience of young people have created Chat Health. It’s an SMS based service that was designed to replace school nurse bookings but it’s moved on to peer-to-peer support for self-harming, teenage depression, etc. Something like this could be re-purposed and used by other services.
The problem with this approach
A little voice in my head reminds me that I’ve been working in and around local government for over 30 years, the last 15 or so spent in local government improvement. For all of that time, finding a more joined up approach across multiple agencies has been firmly on the agenda but with patchy success and a lot of resistance and red tape.
At the moment, local government forms the bedrock to make the changes mentioned earlier happen and unfortunately, change happens in local government at a glacial pace. When it comes to working with young people, the chasm is ever widening as communication is fundamentally poles apart.
There’s no doubt that pockets of innovation do exist across the local authority landscape but it would be great to find a way to bring about large scale adoption of some transformative tech projects.
The Future – now & soon
In the 12 months ahead expect to see:
- much more being moved online
- the continued rise of personal tech – medical monitoring, fitbit, self diagnosis tools
- social prescribing gaining ground
- ongoing transfer from public to private – offshore GP services via apps, Facebook has declared plans for a public sector delivery platform
- the rise of big data, localised data, predictive modelling to identify early need
- human genome and genetic profiling
- automation of work – some think 50% of UK jobs will be gone in the next 10 years
- blockchain and the distributed ledger could revolutionise commissioning
What can social care leaders do?
As usual, there’s a long list. If I was a social care team leader, this is what I’d have on mine:
- in terms of digital, lead from the front – it’s your job
- make it your business to stay up to date about technology – personally & professionally
- have a strategy and communicate it often – it’s up to you to “own” the collective vision of your team
- allow no place for Luddites – encourage, train, mentor, sing the benefits of tech
- make use of what exists now – something like MOMO that’s ready to use, easy to implement and affordable will give you a quick win – stop reinventing the wheel
- network and share with likeminds – start by checking out relevant groups on Knowledge Hub – the free and well used public sector knowledge sharing network – sign up here
- get out of the office and attend weekend hack days and govcamps
- it’s ok to expect urgency and to ask everyone to work “at pace”
- teach your newbies about the importance & urgency grid so that they learn to prioritise effectively
- really think about your team culture. It’s dead easy to have a plan in place with targets. It’s harder to create a culture where everyone is working together to achieve those goals
- teach your people to make decisions and be clear where decision making boundaries lie. Slow or no decision making is awful and was the reason I left local government.
- don’t punish mistakes – allow people to fail as long as they fail fast and learn from the experience
- back horses, select a small number of projects and execute well against your plans
- hit your deadlines and encourage a team environment where everyone does that
- iterate and be agile and fleet of foot; long terms plans are a waste of time where fast change through technology is the norm
- always have Plans B and even Plans C in place.
The Biggest Win of All
The public sector has for years tried to impose technological change through expensive top down waterfall approaches that cost millions. Just look at the scores of failed NHS tech projects that have cost billions of pounds and delivered very little.
Tech today is everywhere and the good news is it’s as cheap as chips and available to us all in our pockets thanks to the late Steve Jobs. In my view that’s where the real opportunity lies. Affordable, incremental change at a manageable local level – preferably copied from someone else and learning from their mistakes.
If anyone reading this wants to step up to the plate & own this huge challenge, then I’ll be the first one to put up my hand and help you.
I’d like to leave you with a fitting quote from Harvard biologist E O Wilson, 87 years of age next month. When asked if humanity will solve the crises of the next hundred years, he replied as follows:
“Yes, if we are honest and smart. The real problem of humanity is that we have paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall.”
In technology we talk about tsunami events being the trigger for large scale change & technology adoption. In Children’s Services your tsunami may be about to hit you – so you need to be prepared.
I enjoyed researching and writing this blog. If you enjoyed reading it then please share it with your networks. As always I look forward to your comments.