Social care evidence base

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
  • Communicating
  • Transacting
  • Problem Solving
  • Creating

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 pDigi-Partic-Charter-Signat-rgbarticipate  fully in the digital world. Signatories commit to:

  1. Ensuring their staff have an opportunity to learn basic digital skills
  2. Encouraging and supporting staff to help other people learn basic digital skills, and help other organisations to embrace digital tools.
  3. 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.

Canva – a simple design tool

(Post by Michelle Drumm, Media Manager at IRISS)

If you want to present information in a more creative, engaging and memorable way but have no design skills, Canva can help you. Canva is a really simple design tool that requires no experience or formal training in graphic design programs such as Photoshop or Indesign. It enables you to create posters, flyers, infographics, website graphics, invites and even presentations without any fuss, and in no time at all. And it’s free to use. Simply set-up an account and start creating designs.

Canva works on the premise of choosing a template or design (there are costs for some designs but there’s a wide variety of free ones available) and dragging and dropping it onto a blank canvas. Templates are sorted by category, for example, posters, cards and Facebook header images. When a template has been chosen you can choose a background colour of choice and even upload your own images to the design. There are also many text fonts and styles available.

In the search function there is a series of shapes, charts and graphs, illustrations and icons that can be used for data visualisation purposes. Canva is especially useful for presenting and reporting data more visually. An example might include the presentation of key facts and figures from a report as part of an executive summary. All created designs can be easily downloaded as PDFs or images and can also be exported for print production.

Not only is Canva easy to use, you’ll also have fun doing it!

Try out Canva.

It’s not OK not to understand the internet

On 29 April I gave a presentation at Holyrood’s annual Telehealth and Telecare Conference.This year’s theme was engagement – both staff engagement and public engagement –  and the brief was to address the question ‘social media and engagement: challenge or opportunity?’

It did feel a little strange to be asking if social media is a challenge or an opportunity. Social media is here, it’s now. A fact of life. Yes, it presents challenges for some people, either because they aren’t sure what it is or because of its disruptive impact on established organisational and power structures.  But there can be no question that it offers many opportunities for engagement.  Consider this definition:

tools that allow people to create, share or exchange information, ideas, and pictures/videos in virtual communities and networks. – Wikipedia

Sharing, exchanging and networking sound very much like the basic ingredients for engagement.

At the conference we heard from a panel of users of telehealth about how social social media is vital in dealing with depression, Alzheimers and visual impairment. This panel did not see privacy and data protection as serious barriers: not in the way ‘the establishment’ does.

Michael Seres is very well known for his use of social media to openly share personal information about Crohns Disease.  Look up Michael on the web for inspiration on how to meld, blogging, Pintrest, Facebook, Twitter to learn, share and communicate and build networks.

With these examples in mind I began by asking ‘what’s holding us back? ‘

Fear of the new

Fear of the new might be one factor. All technology goes through the ‘new’ phase. That’s when the evangelists or enthusiasts talk up the opportunities.  And the doom mongers talk up the dangers. People have always been wary of new things, fearing negative impact.

It’s OK to be skeptical of hype but we should avoid being paralysed by fear and apprehension. In any case, the technologies underpinning the internet, the Web and social media are not particularly new. It’s 25 years since Tim Berners-Lee – looking for a way  to support and improve scientific communication – invented the World Wide Web. He fused the internet, which had been around for at least the previous 25 years, and hypertext, the origins of which go back even further.

Berners-Lee was always clear the web was for everyone. By giving away the idea (which he could have patented) he allowed others to develop and refine web browsers which, together with affordable computers and home broadband, ushered the internet into the mainstream of everyday life.

Berners-Lee has recently come up with a new WWW: the Web We Want.

The future of the Web depends on ordinary people discussing it, taking responsibility for it and challenging those who seek to control the Web for their own purposes.
It is vitally important to me and our work at the World Wide Web Foundation that we empower people from all walks of life to shape the future of the Web.

So if you’re looking for a challenge, maybe this is it. What kind of web do you want? Which is really, what kind of world do we want? This means getting to grips with the legal, ethical and technical frameworks that underpin the Web and the social media that lives on it.

A couple of weeks ago internet pioneer Martha Lane Fox delivered the annual Richard Dimbleby lecture. With a non-technical background (graduate in ancient history), Lane Fox set up, is now in the Lords, advises on all things digital and has launched a campaign called Dot Everyone.

In her lecture she argued that Britain could become the most digital, most connected, most skilled, most informed country on the planet. She was frustrated by the polarising of views that we often encounter: the internet will solve all the world’s problems versus the internet  is screwing everything up. She put it bluntly:

It doesn’t matter if you’re 80 or 8, if you’re online once a year or once a minute. Understanding where the internet came from and what it can do will help you make more sense of the world.

She went on to argue that we’re still wasting colossal fortunes on bad processes and bad technologies. She envisages a world where the internet is a tool for transforming the relationship between the state and the citizen, not something driven by the need for economic efficiency alone.

She felt were were being let down by our leaders, We need, she said, more politicians and senior civil servants who realise that ‘getting’ digital means more than operating a Twitter account or taking an iPad to meetings.

At IRISS I’ve been banging on for the last few years about blocking access to social media in the workplace.  How are social care staff to understand Facebook, Youtube and Twitter if they aren’t allowed access at work?  How are they to engage with the likes of Michael Seres if they aren’t trusted with unfettered access to the internet?

It can be easy to overstate the impact of digital but Lane Fox recounts the story of a woman who is a disabled full-time carer for her disabled husband. She was sinking fast into depression until a local volunteer taught her how to use the internet. She believed it saved her life. She felt her world expanded and that she could experience things she’d never otherwise have been able to do – she was “going on a holiday” when playing around on Google Earth and getting priceless support from new friends she met in online groups.

This is engagement!  Lead with need.  There is no point in urging people get on the internet unless you demonstrate the benefits or how it meets a need.

Policy background

Cabinet Secretary Shona Robison addressed the conference and talked about Scotland’s Digital Participation strategy. Here are some extracts from the Strategy which I’d suggest you quote to those who deny you access to Facebook, Twitter or Youtube.  Or compel you to use an out of date web browser.

Scotland’s Digital Future. Supporting the Transition to a World-leading Digital Economy:

The starting point… has to be a commitment to develop the digital capabilities of staff across the Scottish public sector. Organisations should … encourage the development of digital literacy across their entire workforce. This should be supported by the development of workplaces and IT policies that enhance access to and familiarity of digital technology.

Digital Participation: A National Framework for Local Action:

everybody who wishes to access the internet should be able to

it is the role of government to ensure that everybody in our society has the opportunity to develop digital skills

A world class digital Scotland will be one in which internet access is considered as a utility on a par with access to electricity and gas

and where digital literacy takes it place alongside conventional literacy and numeracy at the heart of our education system

Access to the internet should not be considered a luxury in a modern country


Yes there are dangers. Phishing, data theft, identity theft  and so on. But the world has always posed dangers and the way to deal with danger is through education and awareness.

Bogus salesmen have long swindled vulnerable people at the front doors. Now they do it by phone and email. We used to have TV campaigns warning about bogus door to door salesmen.  Why not the same kind of public education campaigns about using the web? Maybe for the reason Lane Fox mentioned: politicians and leaders in the public and private sectors who don’t understand the internet.


I’ve used the terms internet, Web and social media rather interchangably. That’s because social media is really just a natural evolution of the internet. Orginally the internet was the preserve of scientists until Berners-Lee showed what could be done by linking things up using hypertext. His Web was completely text-based. Young whiz kids came along and showed how a graphical user interface (the web browser) could open it up to a wider community, making it more engaging and exciting by adding images and then moving images, and then interactive elements. Broadband, cheaper PCs, cheaper photography allowed us all to share in the fun.

It has been suggested that the last 150 years were a bit of a blip during which we became text based at the expense of oral and aural traditions. Social media has given us back these oral and aural dimensions.The challenge, then, is how to exploit the opportunities this has opened up.

  • You don’t really ‘learn’ social media; it’s experiential.
  • You can decide what you like and don’t like, what’s useful to you and what is not …
  • … but make an informed choice.
  • Take up Tim Berners Lee’s challenge to help shape the Web We Want.
  • Sign Martha Lane Fox’s petition at Dot.Everyone.
  • And challenge those in power to open up access to the Web at work.

It’s not OK not to understand the internet.

Social reporting in practice

Our first serious attempt at social reporting (see earlier post) at Small Changes, Big Differences on 26 February was a great success with a large number of people joining in the spirit of Tweeting and taking photographs.  We used Storify (see previous post) to create this record of the event, and many participants appreciated seeing such a lively and engaging record, created before, during and after the event.

participants wave to cameraAn important reason for its success was because we planned it as an integral part of the event.  And, on the day, the opening speaker reiterated what we were trying to do, encouraging everyone to get into the spirit of sharing.

This helped create a buzz and gave participants the confidence to talk about the event on Twitter. During the day there were close to 1000 tweets, which we thought was pretty good.

Of course, what we’d really like to see is people creating their own personal record of the parts of the day that mattered to them, using Storify, Medium or whatever they feel comfortable with. That really is the essence of social reporting: individuals or groups capturing what was important to them using the tools they choose.

Storify your event or conversation

(Post by Michelle Drumm, Media Manager at IRISS).

Networking and participating at events can help us learn new skills and keep up to date with what’s happening in our area of interest. Social media is increasingly being used as a way for people to be social at events and to have conversations with others about projects and resources that they may not otherwise be privy to. Twitter is one such social media tool that enables these conversations. And not only can it connect people who are in the same room at the same event, it can also connect people who are watching the conversation from afar and who get involved on social media.

Conversations on Twitter and Facebook can at times be very busy and important information may be missed or forgotten. After an event, it can be very useful to create a ‘story’ or record of the conversations that occurred and to gather together relevant resources, be that tweets, blog posts, video, audio and web links, all in one place. In this way, people can revisit and remind themselves of the activities and discussions of the day.

Storify is a nifty way to create a ‘story’ of an event. It’s a free web tool that enables you to pull together resources from Twitter, Facebook, Soundcloud (audio) YouTube (video), Flickr (photos), Instagram (photos), blog/news feeds (RSS) and Google. And it’s really easy to do. Use the search function in Storify to find resources. By searching a hashtag or keyword, Storify will return the results – you can choose to ‘add all’ or be selective and drag and drop items of choice into your story. A nice feature of Storify is that is allows you to include your own title, description and narrative, and arrange the elements of the story as you wish. At IRISS, we’ve used Storify at a number of events. Examples include our Relationships Matter JAM and Small Changes, Big Difference event (partnership event with SSSC).

Social reporting – sharing the learning

P1020705Scribbling on flipcharts or sticking ideas on Post-it notes are well established ways of capturing and organising thoughts and ideas in group discussions, conferences and workshops. It’s effective too, except when it comes to organising, summarising and sharing all the knowledge captured on these bits of paper. Quite a lot of flipchart paper ends up in rolls under the desk waiting for someone with time to analyse and transcribe.

This got me thinking that there must a world beyond the flipchart. We already have smart boards and collaborative writing tools. Why not use them? It’s a short jump to realise that Tweeting from an event using a hashtag is much the same as posting your thoughts on a wall. What else could we use? Well, there’s Audioboom to capture soundbites, Vine for short video. And then we have great tools for aggregating web-based content: Storify and Medium, for example. Capturing thoughts and ideas digitally makes sharing easier and less time consuming.

This way of doing things is becoming quite well established and even has its own term: Social Reporting.  So we’ve started experimenting and what we’ve learned so far is that social reporting does require planning so that participants understand that it’s an integral part of the event, not a gimmicky add-on.

Of course, scribbling on paper, whether notebook or flipchart, is still perfectly valid. Indeed pens, pencils and paper are vital tools as explained in this video, How The Way You Write Changes the Way You Think.  As ever, digital doesn’t necessarily supplant analogue, but social media offers us so many additional ways of capturing and sharing. For example the Post-it people have created an app (iPhone only at present) that will capture up to 50 post notes and split them into individual notes that you can organise and share. Ideas don’t stop when the meeting ends says the publicity blurb.

We have drafted a guide to how it works and we’ll be trying some of the ideas at Small Changes, Big Differences on 26 February.  Follow the hashtag #scbd15.



TodaysMeet – a simple way to chat online

(Post by Michelle Drumm, Media Manager at IRISS)

Face-to-face meetings can be hard on resources. Often there’s just not the time or the money to bring people together. This is especially true for those working in rural areas or those who need to communicate with others in regional offices. Therefore, people need to be more creative about how they communicate with each other. Online social networks, such as Yammer, LinkedIn and Facebook help to fill these communication gaps, offering spaces to share information and to engage in conversations with others. However, a new tool on the block – TodaysMeet – takes a slightly different approach.

TodaysMeet is a simple chat facility that can be used by anyone who wants to open a discussion. It works on the premise of opening a ‘room’ (without signing up and logging in) for a specified period of time. It’s simply a case of picking a name for your room and the time you want to keep it open for. Options include: one hour, two hours, eight hours, one day, one week, one month and one year. Payment is required for yearly use.

As soon as the room is open, you will see a ‘room tools’ button where you can copy the link to invite other people to the conversation. Other features include the ability to pick up an embed code or QR code for the chat room, and save a transcript of the conversation. Much like Twitter, each message has a 140-character limit to encourage concise points. TodaysMeet was developed for teachers as a way for students to discuss topics outwith the classroom, but it has relevance for anyone who wants to host a meeting or chat, or provide a backchannel for an event.

Today’s Meet:

Learning: the social dimension

I’ll be running a workshop on the social dimensions of learning at Learning Essentials, the  Elearning Alliance conference on Friday 31 October at West Lothian College, Livingston.

In a recent blog post Jane Hart notes that social learning is how we learn naturally, with our friends and colleagues. Social media, although not essential, she says, does offer tools that help us to help us connect to our networks of colleagues to ask and answer questions, and exchange ideas, thoughts and experiences.  This is known as a Personal Learning Network, a concept we explored in our recent animated story.

Continuous learning is less about courses and more about people sharing knowledge, experience, ideas and resources as part of the daily workflow. But Hart also warns against forcing people to use social media in courses or in the workplace and then confusing compliance with engagement learning.

Paul Matthews, in his recent book Informal Learning at Work: How to Boost Performance in Tough Times, notes that employees need to be adaptable, responsive, continuous learners, innovative and willing to share.  To be like that, employees need to work in an environment that allows access to personal learning networks.  The emphasis here is on personal.  People have to want to do this, not be compelled to.

Knoco stories is a blog from Nick Milton offering insights on knowledge transfer. A recent post (Why knowledge transfer through discussion is 14 times more effective than writing) compares and contrasts two ways of transferring knowledge:

  1. Connecting people so that they can discuss
  2. Collecting knowledge in written (explicit) form so others can find and read it

He argues that connecting people is far less efficient than collecting while being far more effective – but how much more effective? He concludes that  effectiveness of transmission of knowledge through connecting is 35% compared to 2.5% for collecting. I’ll leave it to others to decide if they agree with his analysis but it does seem to support the notion that discussion and collaboration are vital parts of learning.

In the workshop we’ll have look at tools for building the personal learning networks and environments that can help us learning continuously and effectively, and willingingly!


Personal learning networks: feedback from the IRISS Challenge

Debbie Lucas is a staff development officer in a local authority social work department. She took part in the IRISS Personal Learning Network Challenge to learn more about using social media both in her own role and to support colleagues. These are her reflections.

Apart from dipping my toe into the world of Twitter by setting up, but never actually using, a personal Twitter account, I would consider myself to be a “Twirgin”. I never really understood the concept of Twitter and was a bit overwhelmed by the fast pace at which information seemed to come through this form of social media.

I took up a new post in a local authority training team in May 2014 and as part of this role, I made contact with organisations such as IRISS and SSKS. This led me down a path of e-information and wanting to know more about how social work practitioners were able to access this information in a way that was quick and easy, especially in the fast-paced, busy environments that we work in. And so, I came across IRISS’ Personal Learning Network Challenge. I was keen to participate and learn more about how I could use social media in my own role, but also how I could use it support practitioners within my organisation.

As with any journey, there were some exciting parts, but also some ‘bumps’ along the way. IRISS, and many others have written more than a few articles about the use of social media in the workplace. These articles focus on the barriers and challenges that organisations and, more importantly, individual practitioners face. Whilst I can appreciate the concerns that senior managers have about allowing staff access to social media, I entirely identify with the individual challenges that those before me have come up against.

Of course, access to Twitter was blocked to almost all employees of my local authority, so I was prepared to participate in this project on my own personal mobile phone. To keep myself right, I shared the information with my line manager and informed her that I would be using my own phone to access Twitter. This was met with some reservations, but I reassured her that my profile was entirely professional and that I would not make any connection with the local authority we worked for. I have to say that although it has never directly been called in to question, I have struggled with the unconscious mistrust that exists in relation to my professional integrity and the use of social media. I do appreciate that there is always the potential for someone in a professional capacity to behave inappropriately on social media, but surely employers should trust in their own selection process and policies/guidance to ensure that their employees will behave in a professional and mature manner when it comes to their job?

The PLN challenge was broken down in to small steps and this made it feel less daunting, especially since I had never fully made use of Twitter before. Soon I was building up a healthy list of colleagues and groups to follow. More excitingly, some started following me, although I was yet to actually say anything on Twitter!

I was amazed at all this information that was virtually “falling in to my lap” and I soon started to master the art of skimming through my Twitter feed and zoning in on information that was relevant or of interest to me. This made the next step in the challenge easier as I had to re-tweet something that I found interesting. I then had the task of actually tweeting something myself….! What on earth would I have to say that anyone would find interesting? So I kept it general and in the vein of the challenge tweeted about looking forward to working with IRISS about improving access to information and even “hashtagged”!

Screen grab of Debbie Lucas's tweets

I wasn’t sure what to expect after this first tweet, but I can tell you it was not to be re-tweeted by Alan Baird, Chief Social Work Adviser to the Scottish Government!!!
In the short space of time that I have been using Twitter, I have grown in confidence in terms of voicing my opinion. Reading other people’s/organisation’s thoughts on things that matter in the world of social work has made me consider my own thoughts and views to a greater extent.Whilst I still need to work up the courage to actually post my opinions, I have definitely noticed a shift in my willingness to publicly express a view.

I was quickly becoming more confident in using Twitter and really excited about being able to pick up information that may, or more likely may NOT have, come to my attention. At times I was opening up all sorts of links and never actually getting round to reading much of it: a small insight in to how difficult it can be for others to stay abreast of new or important information whilst managing busy caseloads and something to think about when supporting my colleagues to access and use social media in the future.

In the meantime, the Director of Social Work for my local authority, had been given information about the PLN challenge and had been made aware that I was participating in the challenge which led to me being given access to Twitter on my work computer.  I am disappointed, however, that I cannot always follow links to potentially interesting blogs as most of these are still blocked by the network.

I was also linked in with a colleague from the Corporate Communications and Public Affairs team who went over some of the basics of using social media, and also gave me some pointers in terms of ‘Lists’ that you could use to filter the information coming through on your Twitter feed. This definitely streamlines my feeds and I can look at specific lists depending on what information I may be interested in at the time.

There are differing views about the use of social media as a professional. In my opinion, there are two different elements to using social media in a professional capacity:

  1. as a representative of the organisation or group that you belong to, offering news and views of the organisation or group; and,
  2. as a professional in your own right with your own (professional) views and interests.

One of the arguments about allowing staff access to social media is the time it would take to manage this. Whilst this is true for the first point, for the second it becomes less of an issue in terms of workload management and more an issue of time management.

For those interested in the use of social media in the work place or as a professional, I’m sure you’re familiar with all the arguments against and for it. I am not going to go into this debate, but I do have an opinion about mixing the use of personal and professional profiles on social media. In the first element above, I feel it is to be avoided. The second element is more likely to lead to some debate, after all, most of us have professional colleagues whom we would consider friends as well.  I feel, however, that this is a blurring of boundaries and it would be too easy for a comment to be inadvertently posted in the wrong context, leading to potentially serious repercussions and damage to a person’s professional integrity. But this is another discussion for another day.

I am still very new to using social media as a professional but I have to say I do understand Twitter more as a professional than I ever did on a personal level. I am really excited about the possibilities and opportunities that this presents. I think that with small steps and a lot of education, we can convince senior managers of the benefits of social media for sharing information and improving practice, especially when there are specific social media networks set up for use in a professional capacity.

I am hoping that I can make a contribution to this ongoing debate and will continue to have discussions in my organisation regarding how we can effectively use social media to improve practice.


Introducing Kristina and her personal learning network

In a recent blog post marking the 25th anniversary of the Web, Jane Hart, founder of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies, observed that our social networks built on things like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+ have become part of our professional lives as they let us make global connections with other like-minded individuals. This professional network, she says, becomes a Personal Learning Network (PLN).

In another post she notes that this kind of social learning often happens below the radar of ICT and learning & development departments  This is partly because access to public social media may be blocked (for example see previous post about Yammer) and partly because people tend not to like the way enterprise-wide social initiatives prescribe which tools they must use for sharing and collaborating. Neither do they like their activities being tracked and scrutinised by others, who may have no idea what it means to be social.

As a result, many in the workforce are not exploiting the enormous potential of PLNs to support continuous learning and development, which most would agree is fundamental requirement for the 21st century worker.

Malcolm Wright and Alison Petch announce the Kirstina animation
Malcolm Wright and Alison Petch announce the Kirstina animation

So we at IRISS were very pleased to collaborate with colleagues in NHS Education for Scotland to create Kristina, a model of how someone working in health and social care can create and benefit from a personal learning network.

Today Kristina makes her debut in this short animation showing how easy she found it to get started.  You can do it too.


Malcolm Wright, NES Chief Executive, talks about the social use of knowledge:

Alison Petch, IRISS Director, explains why we created Kristina: