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

Still think that TV and radio are not being changed by social media?

I still have conversations with people who think that traditional media such as TV and radio are not being disrupted by social media. My contention is that, increasingly, and particularly in the case of radio, people are consuming media via apps on mobile devices, and that this means that they see TV and radio as one of many apps.

And here is a little illustration. Earlier today, the BBC cricket correspondent, Jonathan Agnew, was surprised to find that, as he attempted to hand over to a report on the Lancashire v. Durham County Championship match, he was interrupted by colleague Simon Mann, to be told that there had been a change of plan, and that there was now to be a feature celebrating “Aggers'” 300th Test Match as a commentator, and 25 years as Cricket Correspondent. As the clips of his commentating highlights faded out, Sir Michael Parkinson then took to the airwaves to begin an interview with him.

What made this different was that, anyone who had “liked” BBC Test Match Special’s Facebook Page would have been let into the secret before Aggers, as Sir Michael’s entry into the Engineering Room was being live streamed via Facebook Live with a commentary by a member of the team. So, while radio listeners were hearing Aggers carrying on on air, oblivious, Facebook users knew he was about to be knocked out of his stride.

What this means to me is that “broadcasting” is no longer linear. While the backroom scenes being streamed via Facebook were not officially part of the programme, they were a vital piece of information about what came next. And, as the Facebook Live camera moved into the actual commentary box, there was then a choice for anyone with a smart mobile device, either to continue just listening to the interview, or to switch to Facebook and see the interview with pictures. Thus the programme was available, on mobile devices, either via the BBC iPlayer Radio app (or others such as Tunein), or via Facebook. It’s a question of switching apps.

I know it’s a long way off, but we are heading closer to the day when mainstream broadcasting is simply one of many apps to chose from.

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Capturing Older People’s Technology Stories – Jenny’s Story

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This is another in my series of interviews with older people on how they use technology. I am very grateful to Baeti Mothobi of Orbit Housing Group‘s Social Reporting Team for capturing this story for me. This is part of work commissioned by the Centre for Ageing Better.

Jenny’s tech story:

  • Jenny has been aware of the need to keep up with developments with computers, so did did some courses, and, eventually, bought a laptop, which she now uses all the time;
  • She never feels lonely, but that could be because she uses her laptop to communicate every evening;
  • She knows if she ever wants to find anything she can use Google;
  • The internet helps her hobbies. Jenny sings in a choir, and she can now learn the songs by accessing the music online;
  • Jenny is currently struggling to master her Internet Service Provider’s chat facility;
  • She learned about computers initially from the 5 year-olds at the school where she taught. They taught her not to be frightened, “it’s only a machine”;
  • Jenny researches places she might like to go on holiday online. She sees images of them which make her excited, so she can then plan her holiday;
  • She also finds booking holidays and flights quite straightforward.


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Capturing Older People’s Technology Stories – Barbara’s Story


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Another in my series of interviews with older people on how they use new technologies. This is a piece of work commissioned by the Centre for Ageing Better. I’d like to thank Barbara’s daughter, Bridget Aherne, for arranging this interview.

Some of the things Barbara told me:

  • Barbara is still working; for an NHS GP;
  • She was sent on a computer course by her employer and gained an ECDL (European Computer Driving Licence) Certificate;
  • Barbara has had a mobile phone since the 1990s when her daughters insisted she get one for her personal safety;
  • She teaches dancing and is now using music on her phone for this purpose rather than CDs;
  • Barbara communicates online with people in the USA, Canada, Australia, and Ireland;
  • She believes emails are much easier and cheaper than letters;
  • Barbara is part of the UK Irish community and keeps in touch online with many different groups;
  • She is contributing to a blog about the Irish experience of the First World War;
  • She is often frustrated by the computers she uses at work, they freeze often;
  • Barbara has frequently to help patients at the surgery where she works to use the self-checkin system;
  • She loves sharing family photos online using One Drive and Dropbox;
  • Barbara is concerned that her technophobic husband will lose out when Radio Eireann ceases broadcasting on Long Wave;
  • She loves internet banking as she can see exactly where her money is going, and she does online banking for some of the groups she is involved with;
  • Barbara does some of her shopping online;
  • She uses the internet to keep an eye on events in her husband’s home town in Ireland.

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.

Capturing Older People’s Technology Stories – Teresa’s Story

Here’s another of my series of stories of how older people are using new technologies, for the Centre for Ageing Better. I captured this one unexpectedly at an event where I hadn’t taken my usual video kit with me, so it was done on my phone with no additional equipment. Sorry, therefore, for the background noise.

  • Teresa was persuaded to get first a smartphone, then an iPad by her grandsons who wanted to keep in touch with her. Her grandsons taught her how to use both of them;
  • She particularly loves keeping in touch using Skype, FaceTime, Facebook and Messenger;
  • The real value of how she uses her iPad is that she can keep in touch with family members all over the world;
  • Teresa believes that you cannot tell how someone is feeling on the telephone, but, by using Skype or FaceTime you can see people’s faces and get an insight into their feelings;
  • Teresa says she would now be lost without her iPad;
  • She spends a considerable time messaging with a good friend every evening;
  • Teresa’s next plan is to buy a wireless printer so she can print from her iPad;
  • The best thing about having access to new technologies is having face-to-face contact with her dispersed family;
  • Teresa says “As long as you’ve got wifi you can do it”.

Why You Should Use Digital to Tell Stories


It’s about 3 years now since I first started calling myself a Digital Storyteller. I was far from the first to do so, but I’ve come across very few people who work largely in the non-profit sectors who do so. Most of the others who have adopted the title have been journalists or marketeers. My own evolution came about through a gradual realisation that the people I was training in using social media in the public and voluntary sectors were often failing to put their new skills into practice mainly because they thought they didn’t have a story to tell. So, I shifted my emphasis away from the physical mastery of the tools and towards helping people to find the stories they were going to use those tools to tell.

The non-profit sectors are still not taking full advantage, however, of the opportunities digital tools now give us to tell our stories. If you look at how the big brands do it, it is clear that they have always told stories, whether it be via TV advertising or otherwise, about why they should be part of your lives. It’s how good marketing works. And consider politicians. Their key aim is to tell a story about how they see everyone’s future, and to get voters to buy into that story enough to want to vote for them.

The past six years have been a struggle for many non-profit organisations, with Government-led austerity meaning that funding has been declining while, often, workloads have been expanding. But the cuts have not fallen evenly across the board, with some sectors being protected, and others even being successful in getting planned cuts reversed. This is because these sectors and organisations have greater public support. Like the brands, the public buys into their stories. On the other hand, the mainstream media has often been cheerleading moves to downgrade and cut funding to some sectors, by producing reality TV programmes which degrade and stereotype the people they support. Thus programmes such as “Benefits Street”, “Skint”, and “On Benefits and Proud” all contribute to the story in the public’s mind that certain groups are undeserving of public support and thus taxpayers’ money shouldn’t be spent on services that cater for them. Another case in point is how the EU Referendum debate has been dominated by issue of immigration. This has become the story to the exclusion of most of the remainder of the multitude of issues which the EU deals with.

But the fact is that, when the people actually understand what non-profit services do, their support for it increases. I often point to the case of Dave Throup, the Environment Agency Officer, who gathered a cult following on social media, at the same time that the Agency he worked for was getting a kicking in the media for failing to save the country from floods. This occurred because Dave was telling the story of the great work he was doing on the front line by tweeting about it. It is much easier to love passionate individuals, working hard to help people, than it is to embrace faceless, corporate entities like the Environment Agency. This is why it is so important for non-profit organisations (by which I mean public, voluntary and social enterprise organisations) to tell their stories. And there are three stories we should all be telling:

  • Our personal stories: who we are, what we do, and (crucially) why we do what we do;
  • Our organisational stories: the history of the organisation, its role in society, how it does what it does; and
  • Our client stories: how what we do makes people’s lives better.

All of these insights into what organisations do can be vital in contributing to public perceptions of what we do. But perhaps the most important is the latter element. It is obviously in an individual’s interest to promote what they do, and in that of an organisation to present the best possible image. But, as the best brands have discovered, customer testimonials are the most powerful stories as they don’t have vested interests in being positive about the goods and services they receive. Client stories, therefore, need to be front and central of any digital storytelling strategy.

Social media has become central to millions of people’s lives. This trend shows no signs of abating, in fact, as demographics previously resistant to it recognise its value, it is reaching into new areas of society all the time. And people using social media are increasingly getting the majority of their news and information online. The big brands are all there competing for attention, and telling their stories to the world. But still, far too many non-profit organisations are leaving the field clear for mainstream media organisations and politicians to tell negative stories about what they do. Can you afford to let this situation continue? I think not.

If you would like me to help you with your organisation’s Digital Storytelling strategy, please get in touch.

#HousingDay 2016

Can you believe that this year sees the fourth #HousingDay, the event which has now become a fixture in the annual calendar? #HousingDay is 24 hours when staff and tenants in social housing take to social media to celebrate their work, lives and communities. This year, the event is on the 19th September.

I’ve sort of made a tradition now of organising high profile stunts on the day designed to try to bring the world’s attention to the work that social housing is doing. In 2014 I did the #Housing Day Roadtrip, when I drove 800 miles visiting social landlords up and down England and Wales to highlight their great work, and in 2015, I did the #HousingDay NewsRoom when I was joined by some doyens of the social housing sector to live stream hourly news bulletins about what people were doing for the day.

This year I want to do something that is a little more ambitious. In fact, it might be a bit too ambitious, but I am putting the idea out there to see if there are any takers to help me make this happen.

One of problems that I think besets the social housing sector is that it is guilty of talking to itself rather than to the outside world. #HousingDay is, of course, an attempt to break out of that self-perpetuating bubble, and I think it does that to an extent, but not to anything like the extent that is necessary to make a real difference. And, by make a difference, I mean get widespread support for the sector such that it becomes impossible to impose damaging laws on it, starve it of resources, and make stereotyped TV programmes which demonise tenants. I think we are still a long way from a position where we might achieve these objectives.

2016 is the 50th Anniversary of the broadcasting of the TV programme “Cathy Come Home” the play that did so much to raise the profile of the housing crisis of the time, and which led to the founding of Shelter and many of the housing associations which exist today. That was a real breakthrough moment, and it is perhaps no coincidence that the current housing crisis has caused director Ken Loach to come out of his self-imposed retirement to produce a new film.

So, this is what I want to do on #HousingDay 2016. I want encourage people involved in social housing to organise Housing Film Shows, and I want these to happen in as many towns and cities as possible. I want “Cathy Come Home” to be on the bill of these shows, along with any other housing-related films people can think of. In fact, I want to challenge the social housing sector to make its own films about its work to show alongside “Cathy”. It would be great if each town and city could have its own unique film to show on the day.

But more than the film shows, I want this to be a major opportunity for the sector to talk to others outside its boundaries. I want everyone who organises a show to pack the audience with people who live and work in social housing, but I also want them to invite as VIP guests:

  • local MPs
  • local councillors
  • the Chief Executive of the local authority
  • local business representatives
  • the editor(s) of the local newspaper(s)
  • the editor(s) of the local radio station(s)
  • local and regional TV news
  • local celebrities

And I want organisers not to take “no” for an answer. I want us to move heaven and earth to get as many influential non-housing people there as possible, and I want each show to be a high-profile, media-friendly event.

Can we do this? Is it too ambitious? I hope not. Your comments welcome below. And get in touch if you want to help organise shows.


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Capturing Older People’s Tech Stories – Shirley and Graham

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This is the third in my series of interviews for the Centre for Ageing Better with older people on how they use technology. I met Shirley and Graham at their home in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire. Thank you to Sophia, their granddaughter for making it happen. The video of the interview is at the foot of the post.

Shirley’s story:

  • Shirley first got involved in new technologies when she got involved in managing a local After School Club;
  • She had to learn to use spreadsheets to manage the finances of the club;
  • Shirley really enjoyed learning to use IT;
  • Shirley uses the internet to buy things;
  • Shirley’s oldest daughter lives in Canada and she loves to talk to her grandchildren there via Skype;
  • She does her banking online;
  • Shirley is thinking of buying a tablet so she can use it when she is on holiday;
  • She really appreciates facilities like eBay which she can use quickly to buy a replacement saucepan when she has burnt one on the hob;
  • Having access to the internet means Shirley can learn something new every day;
  • Shirley believes that all older people should give the internet a go;
  • She believes that the internet is very much better than the TV. “There’s nothing on the TV these days except repeats and Attenborough”;
  • Shirley loves YouTube and uses it to watch old episodes of “Top Gear” and “Open All Hours”;
  • She has recently purchased a VHS player as this is the only way to be able to watch her granddaughter (Sophia)’s childhood dance classes;
  • Shirley loves “spying” on the younger members of her family via Facebook;
  • She has a digital photo frame which she loves transferring photos to.

Graham’s story:

  • Graham used to work for BT International. In the mid-1980’s he was invited to a conference on the Internet, but he didn’t have time to take interest;
  • Ever since he has studiously avoided anything to do with his previous employer;
  • Just recently, he has been persuaded by Shirley to learn how to do online banking as their local bank branch has closed.

Capturing Older People’s Tech Stories – Joyce

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This is the second in my series of posts on how older people are using new technologies, stories gathered as part of work for the Centre for Ageing Better.

An old university contemporary of mine put me in touch with his 91 year-old Aunt, Joyce, who emigrated to Florida from Bradford in the 1950s and who had more or less lost touch with her family in the UK before she learned to use Skype.

Here are some of the things Joyce told me. The full video of the interview is at the foot of the post:

  • Joyce started learning to use a computer because her sight was failing and it helped her read;
  • Before learning to use a computer, Joyce struggled to write more than a postcard, partly due to nerve issues in her hands. She has now written 3 books, none of which has been published, but which she writes for the sheer joy of it;
  • The most enjoyable part of being online is being able to keep in touch with friends and family all over the world. Joyce remembers the time when she had to make an appointment to make a transatlantic phone call, and it was prohibitively expensive;
  • Joyce says that her sister-in-law was talked out of attending computer classes by her son who said she would never master it and it was a waste of time;
  • Joyce does much of her shopping online “because things are cheaper”;
  • Joyce says she would be very bored without a computer;
  • Facebook is where she keeps track of her children and grandchildren, and, that day, she had been watching her great granddaughter on a Disneyworld rollercoaster;
  • When asked her attitude to other older people not wanting to be online, Joyce replies “I think they are nuts…. They’re missing out on so much, sitting there in a chair, falling asleep or watching the Idiot Box”;
  • Joyce is firmly of the opinion that being online keeps her young. She says “I look at people 10 to 15 years younger than me and they look so much older. There is always something on the computer to keep your brain going”.