When did we allow the Public Sector to become “other”?

When did we allow the Public Sector to become “other”? I’ve just read yet another article about people doing things for themselves rather than leaving it to the “impersonal” public sector. All power to them, but why the contrast?. We have allowed the media and certain politicians to paint public organisations as being separate from the public, and, it has to be said, a certain kind of management culture and jobsworthiness kind of fosters that within a lot of civic organisations.

But, we should remember that public organisations ARE us. The public funds them through various kinds of taxes, and we elect politicians to oversee them. The public sector represents people’s desire to act collectively to get things done that we cannot achieve on our own. But still there are those who would like us to forget that. This is the reason I have formed the Civic Story Factory to unlock the stories of people doing great work on our behalf.

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Love, Care and Happiness: Telling The Story of Great Social Care

2016-09-20-13-45-21As you may know I’ve been doing some work with Calderdale Council‘s Adult Social Care service to tell the story of how Social Care is being delivered in the district in very trying times.

There can be no denying that Social Care is suffering due to the twin pressures of budget tightening and increasing demand. In many areas this is resulting in collapse of services which are buckling under the pressure. And yet, wherever I go in Calderdale, people keep telling me that things are different, that difficulties are being overcome, and that good quality social care is being made to work. As far as I can tell, this is being achieved by a combination of imaginative and flexible commissioning by the Council and managers and staff of providers who are prepared to go the extra mile. And, in the main, they do this because they care. A good friend of mine, Mike Chitty, once said to me “people can’t be paid to care”. I think he is absolutely right, but it is also true, in some cases, at least, that caring professions attract caring people, i.e. people with heightened degrees of empathy and a mission to help their fellow humans. Could it be that there are more of these kinds of people in Calderdale than elsewhere? I suggest this is unlikely, but from my experience, they do seem to be harnessing more of such people’s talents and enthusiasms in pursuit of common goals.

And I think it is vital that we tell the story of how this is all happening so others can learn from it. As I often say – if people doing good work shy away from telling their story (often shrugging and saying “I’m just doing my job”), they leave the way open for others to distort what they do (look at TV programmes like “Benefits Street”, “On Benefits and Proud”, etc.).

So, here is the video diary I shot after visiting Valley View Care Home in Halifax. This is where I started expounding my view that the ultimate aim of social care providers is to ensure the happiness of the people they care for, and that, thus, Social Care is the Happiness Business.

And then I met Mark Coup, Owner of Welcome Independent Living, based in Hebden Bridge, who told me some great stories about how his staff go beyond the call of duty to show they care.

At the end of a day when I had flitted around the District visiting providers and advocates in Halifax and Todmorden, I paused before getting back on the train to record this video diary in which I, a bit off the cuff, tried to sum up what I had seen and what I thought summed up a great Social Care provider. I think the basic agreements are Love, Care and Happiness.

And so, here is the video I was making, which kind of sums all this up in the words of those running great social care organisations, and some of the self-advocates who work with Lead the Way, and the Council.

If you’ve got a great social good story to tell, and would like me to help you tell it, please get in touch.

 

Why Senior Leaders Can’t Afford to Ignore Social Media

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I’ve been thinking a lot recently about management and leadership and social media. And I’m thinking about this in the context of the world I inhabit most of the time, that of the public and voluntary sectors. I know a number of senior managers and leaders who are great on social media, but I also know a lot of people who are still complaining that their access to social media and other useful tools is restricted in the workplace. More than 10 years after social media use first became widespread, there are still a large number of organisations either not taking it seriously or blocking it.

This is a really important issue in today’s networked world. Social media and other new technologies have changed the world of work for most people. They have caused organisations to work in more open and collaborative ways, they have flattened hierarchies, and they have allowed like-minded individuals to find and connect with each other to pursue common goals. But, there are still organisations who are oblivious to these changes, or who are actively resisting them. This is bad for their organisations for a number of reasons:

  • People are using digital tools in their private lives and they expect similar experiences when they go to work;
  • Organisations not using modern tools risk being outflanked by those that are;
  • Deploying social media and modern digital tools makes work more interesting and fulfilling, meaning staff are more likely to stay with the organisation, be committed to its vision, and produce better work.

So, what does this mean for senior managers and leaders? Well, surely that point about flattened hierarchies is some kind of threat isn’t it? Maybe not, considering that organisations are indeed changing. The fact that social media in particular allows leaders to tap into knowledge, expertise, and enthusiasm wherever it exists in the organisation has to be an opportunity.

And it is certainly true now (possibly more than ever before), that leadership and status are not necessarily correlated. What social media has definitely done is to highlight where the thinkers, the innovators and the change makers are in organisations and make them visible to the outside world. These kinds of people are not always at senior positions in the hierarchy.  There have been far too many examples where such people have been frustrated that their ideas have not been taken up, and they have subsequently left the organisation, in many cases to establish their own startup companies. One of the key challenges for leaders in the second decade of the 21st Century is to provide opportunities for all staff to contribute to the mission, feel valued, and understand that they have opportunities to progress. Even organisations which ban staff access to social media need to be aware that this is not a foolproof strategy for suppressing criticism, as staff are quite capable of communicating via their smartphones, or in their own time outside work. It is thus far better to offer opportunities for people to make their contributions as part of their work rather than outside it.

I maintain, therefore, that we are no longer in a world where status automatically begats respect as a leader. That respect has to be earned. If you are in a senior position in a large organisation, how do people who work in it, who may never meet you, or do so rarely, get to know you, and work out whether you are deserving in their trust as a leader? We all know that “management by walking about” is a good strategy, but, when the organisation is above a certain size, that may not be practical. This is where social media is your friend. Developing a good social media profile can bring you closer to your staff, as well as enabling you to make those contacts which tap into knowledge and expertise which doesn’t reach you through the usual channels which exist in hierarchies. If you want an example of how this can work, have a look at the public profile of someone like Sir Richard Branson who has been extraordinarily successful in a range of different business spheres, but has managed to maintain his “nice guy” image. Branson is a living embodiment of the power of public relations, and it pays to be aware that good relations internally within an organisation are at least as important as those with external bodies and individuals.

The openness afforded by social media has transformed what it means to be a leader in the modern workplace. But, if you are not already active on social media platforms it can feel like a scary place to venture in to. Because there is no deference on social media. If you are starting from scratch, you have zero followers, and people used to being listened to by virtue of their status in the hierarchy can feel this is like starting out all over again. But the things to remember about social media are:

  • It is a slow burner, and you need to build profile and reputation over time;
  • You can use it to connect with peers in other organisations who have already been there and done it;
  • Unless you are a celebrity, a politician, or someone who deliberate courts controversy and offence, social media tends to be a friendly place, full of helpful people (that’s certainly been my experience over the last 10 years).

A high profile on social media is an essential part of any manager’s toolkit in the current climate. If I can help you on develop your practice in this area, please get in touch

Social Work is Human Rights #SWisHumanRights – building social movements from events

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On Friday 15th July I had the great pleasure of being part of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) Yorkshire & Humber Conference at York Racecourse. The theme of the event was “Social Work is Human Rights”

My role was to work with the organisers to help get the messages out of the room via live-streaming, tweeting and capturing voices via vox pop videos and filming the presentations. It was an inspirational day, and what really helped was that the presenters told some really powerful stories. Andrea Sutcliffe of the Quality Care Commission illustrated her presentation with the story of her brother’s suicide; we heard powerfully from Gavin Harding about how the NHS is now putting into practice the idea that, to take people with learning disabilities seriously (his words), organisations need to employ them. And we also heard the heart-wrenching story from Mark Neary  about how his son, Steven, was taken to an Assessment and Treatment Unit for one night, and didn’t come home for 350 days, and then, only after a very hard fight from his dad.

All these were very powerful, inspirational stories, which clearly moved people and made them think. But the other thing about the event is that the impact has carried on afterwards, and continues, due to the social media and video content produced. Elaine James has produced and distributed an excellent storify of the event which has been instrumental in carrying on the debate.

As you probably know, I think stories are the most effective means of getting messages to stay with people. Social Work is Human Rights was full of great stories, but their impact will live on and gather momentum due to the social media and video which is circulating on the web.

It seems to me that what we are doing with this kind of approach is to seed, stimulate, and / or launch social movements off the back of events.  If you’d like me to help you do something similar around your event, please get in touch.

Here’s the overview video of the event

And here are the views of some of the presenters and delegates

The EU Referendum – proof of the power of storytelling

I’m banging on about storytelling again. Because I believe a momentous decision has just been made because slightly over half of the UK adult population believed a story. That story might be true. It might not. I very much doubt that all of it is true. Much of it might have its roots in truth. But….

You see, the Leave Campaign bus had a slogan on the side which said “We send £350m a week to the EU: Let’s spend that money on the NHS”. Nigel Farage made a speech in front of a poster saying “Let’s spend money on the NHS; not Brussels”. This morning he has said that nobody promised the EU money would be spent on the NHS. You see, not all stories are true. But some of them are powerful enough to make people believe in them.

I watched a TV programme recently about the guy who debunked Yuri Geller and several evangelical Faith Healers. Even though their methods were publicly shown to be fake, after a brief glitch in their popularity, most went on to resume their careers. People wanted to believe that what they were doing was real more than they wanted to believe the facts. The story won out over the reality.

So, in the face of myths, we have to tell the real story and we have to get people to want to believe the reality more than they want to believe the myth. People believe that all social housing tenants are cheating scroungers because of “Benefits Street” and the like. They believe that having any kind of ambition in life is setting yourself up for a fall because that is a recurring motif in TV Soap Operas.

So, some of the stories we have to tell, in ways that that engage people, are:

  • Social housing is necessary for social cohesion and a balanced society;
  • Some people need benefits because they can’t work either permanently or temporarily;
  • Collective community actions can improve people’s lives;
  • Some people can and should be able to improve their own health and wellbeing if given support and access to resources;
  • WIthout immigration our economy would collapse;
  • Ethnic and social diversity is a social good and enhances all of our lives
  • Older age is not “God’s Waiting Room”.

And those of us who believe in these ideas, or work in organisations whose existence depends on them, need to tell these stories ourselves. All the evidence suggests that no one else is going to do it for us.

I am passionate about the power of Digital Storytelling and I want to help all organisations and individuals to gain the skills and capabilities to tell their own stories to the world. If you share this objective, and just need a little help getting there, please get in touch.

Let your staff be your ambassadors – a takeway from #wgt16

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Today I attended the first We Nurses Get Together (#wtg16). It was a great event to be present at, and I’d just like to congratulate everyone involved in making it happen.

During the afternoon I was part of a group that were looking at developing enabling social media policies. Quite a few of the members of the group expressed their frustration that their organisations were still frightened of social media and were blocking staff from using it at work. We explored why this was the case, and management fears of people saying the wrong things and causing a scandal were pretty high on the list.

And yet, one of the group was from Morecambe Bay NHS Trust, an organisation which has experienced more than its fair share of scandal, none of it social media-related. And as part of this Trust’s fight back from its dire position, it is now encouraging all its staff to be active on social media, and to tell their stories about the good work they are doing.

So, there is a real contradiction here. Those organisations which have not experienced scandal are preventing their staff from accessing social media in case they cause one; whereas the organisation that has been through scandal encourages its staff to be open and transparent. This is because they recognise that their staff are their greatest asset and that, by using social media, they can harness their individual and collective voices to place the good work the Trust does before the public. As I said in the session; too many organisations claim their staff are their greatest asset while treating them as if they are a liability. If you really want to get the best out of your staff you need to give their voice free reign, and turn them all into ambassadors for your organisation.

I think this is a really powerful argument to put forward to any managers who are still being reluctant to let their staff use social media. Tell them to consider what is the worst that can happen if someone makes a mistake on social media and could it be worse than any of the things that happened at Morecambe Bay. In the scheme of things, scandals caused by people’s actions on social media are few and far between, but the positive stories of hardworking people wanting to make a difference are many, and they deserve to be told.

Please get in touch if I can help you develop your social media strategy.

Councillors and Social Media – Could They be YouTube Stars?

2016-02-12 10.04.45This is my second post on my takeaways from this year’s #notwestminster event. It may not be the last.

This was the second #notwestminster event, and there have been numerous other events with a similar slant, principally #localgovcamps over the past 8 years or so. It is tempting to think that we will always see progress as time passes, but I fear that this is not always the case. And in this instance, there is a field in which I think progress has stalled, or maybe even taken some backward steps, and that is the use of social media by councillors.

Councillors as Youtube Stars

Someone like Cllr. David Harrington from Stockton-on-Tees is living proof of why councillors should be making effective use of social media. More of that, including a video interview below. But, before that, at the Friday, Local Democracy Makers’ Day, I pitched an idea that I have outlined before, namely, how can we make Youtube stars out of councillors?

As I have written elsewhere, I am a firm believer that non-profit organisations need to make much more use of online video to engage with their customers and service users. There are now people who are making millions from YouTube videos; their audience is mainly young people, they are mainly young themselves, and their subject matter is normally pretty frivolous. But that doesn’t mean that this experience cannot be translated to a more serious area. And the benefits of Councillors engaging beyond the “usual suspects” of the politically-engaged, the campaigners and those with an axe to grind, has to be self-evident.

So, on Friday, we formed a group to work on how Councillors can use video to engage with their constituents, and I think we came up with something quite interesting, with possible applications beyond local government. The solution we came up with was a tool which would allow councillors to publish a map of their ward populated with videos about issues in particular locations. Lucy Knight pulled the tool together and published it immediately on her blog here, while I conducted a video interview with Cllr. Mike Jordan to give us some content to display. The video interview is posted below. It’s worth a watch as it gives some insights into how floods have been dealt with in Selby and North Yorkshire.

It’s a very rough and ready tool, but sometimes the most simple things are the best. I think this, if developed further, could be the basis of an engagement platform, providing opportunities for councillors to use video to engage their electorate. And it could be opened wider to allow local residents to publish their own videos on it in an effort to get something done about local issues. Please get in touch if you are interested in helping to develop this tool further.

Councillors and Social Media

And so to the wider issue of councillors using social media. I conducted the interview below with Councillor David Harrington because I was very struck with what he had said about how his councillor caseload has increased greatly as a result of his high profile on social media. A few years ago there was funding avialable to run programmes like this one which had quite an influence on increased uptake of social media on the part of local elected members. But, as austerity has bitten, funding for things like this has dried up. I think that is a great shame, and I’d be very interested in running some social media training sessions for councillors if either funding could be found, or if councillors themselves might be prepared to pay a modest amount to attend. If anyone can help with this, please get in touch. I’d be interested in the views of elected members themselves as to whether they would attend such sessions and how they might be funded.

Humanising Systems

I woke up this morning to yet another example of what goes wrong when systems fail to perform as collectives of humans. There have been far too many of them to catalogue, and many of these failures are intensely painful to all involved, so I don’t intend to go into them here. The latest story was about attempts to replace the Liverpool Care Pathway end-of-life care system in the NHS with something a bit more personal and tailored to the needs of the individual. The previous regime was a prime example of bureaucracy replacing common sense and compassion, which has been all too common a feature of our lives for too many years.

I firmly believe that organisations work best when they function as groupings of human beings and when those humans are allowed to react firstly as people and secondly as bureaucrats. Many of the systems failures we have seen come about when people tick boxes rather than using their feelings, empathy, compassion, and judgement.

In recent times I have attended an event at which health and care professionals attempted to communicate their aims to engage the public in their work using PowerPoint slides with type too small to read, and one which even included an Excel Spreadsheet; and I have visited the offices of another organisation charged with public engagement which resides in a building at the far end of an industrial estate remote from public transport routes. Both of these are, to me, symptoms of systems failure. The thinking that led to those situations was wrong, and they lead to decision-making which is unhelpful.

And I wonder if it is a coincidence that the people who use these methods also don’t use social media in their work. Just as they hide away in their offices in inaccessible locations and couch their “explanations” in impenetrable language, they continue to shy away from modern methods of communication and transparency.

There are many laudable, conscious, efforts going on to promote transparency and “working in public” through social media, including the “Social Organisation” initiative in Leeds and the Bromford Lab in social housing. In many other cases, individuals have pushed the boundaries through their own personal use and have seen positive public reactions.

To me, there has to be a role for social media in breaking down the old, damaging consensus, that faceless bureaucracies are the most efficient kind of organisations, and leading the way to a new acceptance that transparency and human reactions are the best ways of getting things done. Social media reveals people’s motives, makes them open to scrutiny, and it helps them find like-minded people and supportive colleagues. This has to be a better way of doing things.

What do you think?

 

Announcing AgeCamp

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UPDATE: AgeCamp 2016 will take place on Monday 4th April at the Shay Stadium, Halifax, West Yorkshire

 

As you probably know, I have been working on initiatives to assist older citizens to use social and mobile technologies for a while now. It’s a frustrating field of work, frustrated on so many fronts by:

  • the reality of technophobia among older people (which IS a reality, but is often vastly over-stated)
  • technophobia among the staff of organisations working with older people (which can often be a bigger problem than that of the older people themselves)
  • inertia in the system, and reluctance to adopt new ways of working
  • risk aversion
  • lack of equipment and infrastructure in institutions, centres, and people’s homes
  • focus on the crucial role of telehealth and telecare equipment, which can often crowd out the potentially important role of social and mobile tech.

Often it can feel a lonely business, trying to get recognition of both the need for older people to use social and mobile technologies, and to get into the system to try it out with them.

So, I’m announcing AgeCamp, an unconference for people working with older citizens. This will be an opportunity for anyone who works with older people (and older people themselves) to get together in a mutually supportive environment, discuss their issues and plan joint responses. And, this is meant in no way to be an event which focuses exclusively on technology. Any issues about working with older people are open for discussion. So, if you want to re-invent the care home, or start a community minibus service, all topics are welcome.

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If you’ve never been to an unconference, here’s a pretty good description of how they work. AgeCamp will be led by the attendees, there will be no fixed agenda in advance, you come along, you pitch an idea, and if at least one more person wants to talk about it, you have a session (in fact you can run a session on your own if you really want to!).

Date

I don’t have a date or a venue sorted yet. (UPDATE: The first AgeCamp will be on 4th April 2016)

Venue

See above. Maybe someone could offer a venue, that would be great. (UPDATE: Courtesy of Calderdale Council, the venue will be in Halifax, at The Shay Stadium)

Sponsorship

I am also looking for sponsors. We need sponsorship for venue hire, catering, maybe some travel bursaries, and for post session drinks. This will be a great opportunity for people with products or services relevant to older people to promote themselves to a range of people working in the sector.

Please get in touch, using the form below, if you can help with any of these issues, or if you just want to get involved and make AgeCamp happen.

See you at AgeCamp!

“Non-Core” – An Urgent Call to Save Social Housing’s added value services

The last few months have not been good for social housing. Or at least not good for those who believe that low-cost rented accommodation provides people on low incomes with a vital bit of stability in their lives. It has become clear that the current government doesn’t share this view, and, indeed, as Jules Birch pointed out recently, it appears that their view is that social housing actively contributes to people’s poverty by diverting them from the aspiration of owning their own homes. Whether you share this latter belief or not, you cannot ignore that major changes are happening in the sector, with funding being shifted away from subsidising rents to encouraging low-cost home ownership, a 1% rent cut being imposed across the board, and Right-to-Buy being extended to housing association tenants, albeit the latter now being arranged via a “voluntary” agreement brokered by the National Housing Federation rather than by legislation.

And now housing magazine “Inside Housing” has produced a survey [paywall] which suggests that 72.1% of social landlords are cutting back on “non-core” activities as a result of the changed situation. They have decided that reduced funding and an uncertain policy environment mean that concentrating on managing the bricks and mortar is their best chance of survival. And so, community development, employment generation, and digital inclusion are just some of the activities which are being jettisoned as the hatches are battened down.

But if social landlords are not going to deliver these services who is? It can be argued that people who live in social housing need these services more than ever in the current climate, and, certainly in the case of digital inclusion, cutting back on such services is classic cutting-off-the-nose-to-spite-the-face territory, as the advent of Universal Credit will severely threaten landlords’ ability to collect rents if tenants are unable to manage their finances online. And I can tell you this is happening as I am experiencing loss of work myself as organisations disinvest from such actions.

Local government is hardly in a position to step in and pick up these services as it has experienced its own series of drastic cuts since 2010. And, despite the current Prime Minister’s early championing of the Big Society, it has always been clear that unpaid voluntary activity thrives in leafy suburbs and villages, not necessarily on social housing estates. So, activities which aid tenants’ well-being, incomes, and ability to pay their rents are starting to disappear. This will surely exacerbate the situation.

Something needs to be done about this. I am therefore starting a “Non-Core Watch”. If you know of a social landlord cutting back on activities which improve tenants’ lives beyond the provision of a house then please describe it in the comments below, and raise awareness on social media using the hashtag #noncore. We need to understand what is happening and begin to organise action to save such services before it is too late for our communities.