Social care may be the poor relation of healthcare with regard to research funding, but it’s something of a myth that it is not evidence-based, says Research in Practice Director Dez Holmes (How good is the social care sector at building an evidence base? Guardian Social Care Network, 7 July 2015). Evidence, she notes, is more than just the results of randomised control trials: it comes in many forms, including practitioner experience and wisdom and user and carer perspectives, a point also acknowledged in Scotland’s Strategy and Action Plan for Embedding Knowledge in Practice in Scotland’s Social Services.
Getting evidence and knowledge into practice is another challenge which, according to Holmes, isn’t just a simple matter of giving everyone an Athens password to the journal literature. Former social worker Gerry Nosowska (in the same article) says that social workers need time and space to find, use and share research, and this requires an organisational culture that encourages and values reading, discussing and reflecting:
If keeping on top of research and using it to inform their practice is to become the norm … leaders and managers have a key role to play in creating the kind of environment that encourages research.
Innovative methods to present evidence may also encourage better uptake and use of knowledge. A three-minute video is often more effective than wading through 60 pages of academic jargon. Here is an example we at IRISS produced to explain what person centred means in practice.
The 2015 Vision and Strategy for Social Services in Scotland acknowledges the need to improve use of evidence, highlighting
… the need to breakdown the traditional barriers between stakeholders and find ways to maximise the participation of service providers and ultimately the service users themselves in identifying research priorities. Ensuring collaborative practice in all stages of research and knowledge exchange is also key
In the 21st century collaborative practice and knowledge exchange rely to a large extent on digitally literacy because the web-based digital media offers so much potential for finding, sharing and reflecting (see previous post on Personal Learning Networks for example). What do we mean by digital literacy? A good place to start is GO ON UK for a definition of basic digital skills:
- Managing information
- Problem Solving
Scotland’s Digital Participation Charter invites organisations to play their part in ensuring that everyone has the access, motivation and the basic digital skills required to participate fully in the digital world. Signatories commit to:
- Ensuring their staff have an opportunity to learn basic digital skills
- Encouraging and supporting staff to help other people learn basic digital skills, and help other organisations to embrace digital tools.
- Contributing resources and practical support for digital participation initiatives.
People working in social care are no less able to acquire digital skills than the population as a whole. The same skills that will equip them to book holidays, shop and complete tax returns, will equip them to exploit the power of the web to find use and share knowledge.
All we need is the cultural change that will allow this to happen in the workplace. The 130 or so signatories to Scotland’s Digital Participation Charter have committed to do this. It’s a start.