A short history of the Champion Network

Ellen Daly from Iriss reflects on the Champion Network from its beginnings in 2009 until the present.

Part of my work over the last year or so has involved thinking about ‘what next?’ for our champion network. Our ‘champs’ have been an invaluable support to us over the years and have been a source of ideas, inspiration and guidance. In order to help my thinking, I ended up writing a history of the champion network to reflect on where we’ve come from, we are now and where to go next.

Phase 1: 2009 – 2010 (Set-up)
The champion network was an idea that Alison Petch introduced when she joined Iriss as Director in 2009. The idea was based on the ‘link officer’ model at Research in Practice for Adults (Ripfa), Alison’s previous organisation. Link officers were brought together annually for a residential event as a reward for their contribution over the year. Securing champions was a fundamental function of our engagement in 2009 – it was a way for us to raise our profile in the sector; source project partners; raise awareness of our resources; get people to our events; and importantly, get advice and guidance on our direction.

The network started by engaging with those in learning, development, research and training-type roles in each local authority. We quickly had champions in each of the local authorities and each one was allocated a contact person at Iriss.

October 2010

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 15.46.38

The first annual residential event, took place at the beautiful New Lanark Mill Hotel. This event focused on exploring the champion role, showcasing some of Iriss’s work and getting to know each other.

Phase 2: 2011 – 2013 (Growth)
The champion network was extended to include some key third and private sector organisations. The network was probably at its largest during this phase with up to about 68 champions. This made it difficult to resource and ensure a consistent level of engagement across the network.

Three annual two-day residential events were held at New Lanark Mill Hotel during this phase.

September 2011

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 15.50.51

During the two days we showcased some of the work of the champions, explored self-directed support, personal outcomes and integration; and used the Futures Thinking Tool.

October 2012

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 15.52.56

This event explored a range of areas including harnessing community capacity and micro-enterprise; the Evidence Explorers project; the Pilotlight programme; and ‘scaling out’, from piloting to embedding.

Citizen champions
In 2012, we also explored the idea of developing ‘citizen’ champions to engage unpaid carers and people who access support. Again, this was based on a Ripfa model – they had a reference group of people with experience of support. We got advice from other organisations about the best way to go about this (including Scottish Commission for Learning Disability, Independent living in Scotland and a member of the Carer and User Group at the University of Dundee). At one stage, we had three citizen champions with experience of support. The idea was that we would develop the role remit with them but ultimately the demands of caring and work made it difficult for them to sustain their involvement.

November 2013

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 15.55.39

The event featured a session led by one of our champions on integration; creative methods to stimulate and consolidate change; co-design experiences from the Pilotlight programme; and an un-conference session to explore topics requested by champions.

Phase 3: 2014 (Review)
A review of the champion network was undertaken in January 2014. This involved trying to reconnect with some of the champions we hadn’t been in touch with for a while, and trying to replace those who had changed roles, moved on or who wanted to pass the champion role to another colleague. During this phase we concentrated on consolidating rather than growing the network.

September 2014


We ran two regional events for champions in September. The participants at each event got a chance to bring topics of interest to the table. These included supervision (which linked to the developing Iriss project, Leading change in Supervision); processes and systems that support the implementation of self-directed support; and Personal Learning Networks – use of the web and social media for workplace learning. Discussions also helped to inform the development of Iriss’s strategy 2015-18, which included a session on contribution analysis.

Overall, Champions saw the events as great opportunities to share ideas and make connections. People came away with leads to follow-up on and in some cases, fired up to address a challenge.

November 2014

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 16.01.01

The annual event went ahead in November at New Lanark Mill. Day one focused on Imagining the Future and day two on topics including older people, integration and contribution analysis.

Phase 4: 2015 / 16 (Rethink)
A new logic model was developed in June 2015 to look again the network in light of the findings of the Contribution Analysis work. As part of this work a case study on the network had been developed which highlighted some challenges and recommendations.

Another key change in 2015 was to rethink the annual two-day residential event at New Lanark Mill usually held in the Autumn. We recognised that while the annual event energised the group, provided inspiration, focus and a direction of travel, the challenge lay in what happened between the yearly events. How could we keep momentum? Could we spread the resource we spent on the event more evenly across the year? We didn’t want to go a year without a ‘champions event’ so we organised a one-day exploratory session called ‘Engagement, change and risk through an implementation lens’ in March 2016. The event was invite-only and champions were given priority to attend. Led by Melissa Van Dyke, the National Expert Advisor on Implementation with CELCIS, the session aimed to introduce Implementation Methodology as a frame for working with some of the challenges posed by change and risk. The session was well received and it was great to connect with some of our champions.

What’s next?

We’re in the process of ironing out details of a new approach which will maintain what was great about the champion network while addressing the challenges. Watch this space!

Frontline Voices

A skilled and valued workforce is at the heart of Social Services Vision and Strategy for Scotland.

Our vision is a socially just Scotland with excellent social services delivered by a skilled and valued workforce which works with others to empower, support and protect people, with a focus on prevention, early intervention and enablement.

It is, therefore, crucial that we hear from this workforce in order to understand their experiences. Over 2015/16, Iriss carried out work to gain a richer perspective of these experiences.  It resulted in The View from Here, a project which brought together quantitative and qualitative (including illustrated stories) research on the experiences of the social services workforce in Scotland. The findings were launched in October 2015.

Early 2016, Scottish Care launched its findings from the Frontline Voices project, which heard the views of frontline care staff which were published in a report. In it, men and women gave an insight into what inspires them to enter and remain in the profession and also offers their views on areas that give them cause for concern.

Iriss worked with Scottish Care to produce an animated video presentation for the launch. A creative script was put together by Katharine Ross from Scottish Care, we audio recorded the ‘voices’ of social care practitioners and Paul Hart, Iriss’ interactive developer produced a creative, visual way to communicate these voices. This involved dropping the audio into a software package called Adobe After Affects and and adding a few filters and effects on the audio to bring them to life as simple animated waveforms.  The final pieces were assembled in Adobe Premiere.

Here’s the finished video animation:

Katharine Ross, National Workforce Development Lead at Scottish Care commented,

Scottish Care worked in partnership with Iriss to create a presentation for the launch of the ‘Voices from the Front Line’ report in February 2016. Their support was simply invaluable. Iriss – in particular Michelle Drumm and Paul Hart – were so generous with their time. Their expert knowledge and creative input (from supporting the recording of the voices, editing material to developing a 7 minute video) ensured that a quality, multi purpose resource was developed. We look forward to working with Iriss throughout 2016!’

Over 2016/17,  we’ll be building on  The View from Here, aiming to showcase the existing stories and curate new stories through a touring a multimedia exhibition. Frontline Voices will be incorporated into this exhibition. The plan is to launch the exhibition at the Social Work Scotland conference on 15 and 16 June 2016.

Throughout the year we’ll work with partners to promote public understanding about caring professions and the contribution of people who work in care, in line with the Promoting Public Understanding strand of the vision and strategy.

Looking back at the Knowledge Media Programme

Knowledge Media has the longest history of all the Iriss programmes and has set the foundations for the other two: Evidence-informed Practice and Innovation and Improvement.

Knowledge Media was set up over ten years ago as the Learning Technology Team, which became the Scottish Institute for Excellence in Social Work Education (SIESWE), a collaboration of Neil Ballantyne, then social work lecturer at the University of Strathclyde, and a group at Dundee University.

SIESWE set out to improve knowledge exchange in social work practice and to improve  the quality of social work education more generally. This was in response to Changing Lives: Report of the 21st Century Social Work Review.

In 2008, SIESWE evolved into Iriss and grew its Evidence-informed Practice and Innovation and Improvement arms.  Ian Watson (who was Head of Knowledge Media) from 2008 until 2016 recently retired from Iriss. Before he departed we gathered the Knowledge Media team together for a chat about the programme’s work over the last ten years years. We hear from Ian Watson (Head of Knowledge Media), Ian Phillip (Interactive Designer), Lesley Duff (Integration Developer) and Ellen Daly (Project Manager). Enjoy listening.

Personal Learning Networks online workshop

Reflections on the Personal Learning Networks online workshop by Michelle Drumm, Communications and Content Manager at Iriss.

The story starts at Jane Hart and her Guided Social Learning online workshop. I would like to claim that the idea for a Personal Learning Networks online workshop was all my own, but no, it’s more remix and remodel or a blending of ideas if I’m truly honest. In the summer of 2014, I completed an online workshop on social or personal learning in the workplace and it made me think that we could try something similar for social services.

As part of its Knowledge Media programme, Iriss had already developed the Personal Learning Network video animation in partnership with NHS Education for Scotland. I thought we could capitalise on this and make it the conversation starter for an online workshop around promoting the concept of Personal Learning Networks and the effective use of social media and the web to the social services workforce. The workshop would encourage and support the development of social media skills and build people’s confidence in using them.

I spoke to Paul Hart, one of our developers about it who suggested CoursePress Pro for WordPress. We had an installation of WordPress so it would be easy to add the plugin and at no extra cost. So we added the plugin and I started exploring how it would work. It was pretty intuitive. I could immediately see the potential of using it to pilot an online workshop. And it wouldn’t require a huge investment of resources (time, money, people and content design).

As we had never run an online workshop before, I was aware and a little anxious that it might not get sign-ups, have technical glitches etc., so I was keen to invest the right amount of time and energy – get the right balance of input (resources) and outcomes. I was supported to do this by Catherine-Rose, Head of Impact and Engagement at Iriss. We had a helpful conversation about the project and on the back of it she developed a logic model for me to use to measure inputs and outcomes.

PLN logic model
PLN logic model

I spent three months developing the content and included a mix of media – videos, readings, practical tasks and discussion. I designed the course to run for six weeks and envisaged that it would be ‘facilitation light’ on my part (at least I hoped so!). We partnered with SSSC on accreditation of the learning. An open badge was offered on sign-up and completion of the six weeks. Participants needed to evidence participation and learning in order to apply for an open badge.

The workshop was made live for sign-up early August and it kicked off on 7 September. Approx. 135 people signed up which was surprising and very exciting – and there were relatively few glitches. A number of people had issues signing up for the course on the WordPress blog. This was frustrating as we were at the mercy of WordPress and didn’t have control over sign-up functions. A small number of people had trouble logging in – forgot usernames and passwords – but that was to be expected. Lesley Duff, one of our developers, was on hand to troubleshoot any technical issues and having her support throughout was invaluable.

In the first week, about 30 people introduced themselves and there was a good amount of discussion on the first week’s activities. I encouraged people throughout. Some people came to it late on the second week. Feedback on the first week included:

‘This is a good model for learning as you’re constantly getting new up-to-date pieces of information. Others can add on to the discussion and give you more information and links for you to have a look at. You can build up your network of contacts who are relevant to your organisation’.

‘The really frustrating aspect of this for me is the continual “Firewall” prohibitions which won’t allow access. I couldn’t watch the first video as my organisation as blocked this. I can contact IT and hopefully resolve this issue but this is something I have to continually do to access information which I need ‘then and there’ and it can often take days to resolve/unblock content. I appreciate the need for organisational security but we need to move with the modern world and recognise the contribution technology can make to effective work practice’.

‘Having read both articles, I agree that the move away from content-based information/knowledge to an interactive, people-based approach is creative, immediate and personally proactive. Using social media for learning, working and networking is a move away from the relative “passivity” of my learning experiences in the past’.

The second and third week focused on getting started with Twitter. There was a small number of people who got involved, and some who set up new accounts. There was a Twitter chat at the end of the third week which generated discussion and was well received.

‘Starting to explore Twitter this week has been useful, although I think I need the TIME Jane Hart is talking about to get real value from this media. I have started to follow a number of social work/ social care related organisations and I can see there will be a great deal of scope to increase knowledge and make connections.’

‘I’ve now managed to get photos onto my twitter account. I had to get assistance from a colleague with the one for the profile as I was having difficulties… I’ve sent some tweet now as well and a direct message via twitter to my line manager. Still finding the process is making me quite nervous. I hope this will change once I get more involved.’.

‘Twitter chat on Friday was very useful. It really let me see the value of Twitter and gave me lots of ideas. Thanks so much for organising that – really good use of time’.

The fourth and fifth weeks focused on information management tools – Diigo social bookmarking and Scoop It! The idea behind this was that interesting information found on Twitter or anywhere else on the web could be easily saved for read later. The final week was dedicated to reflection on learning and getting feedback. This feedback will be used to inform the development of any further online workshops/courses.

Learning points

  • Overall, the WordPress blog functioned well. We lacked the control to customise interface, which was a little frustrating. Support from Iriss developers was very important.
  • The content was well received by participants. Only one person reported not being able to view videos. A couple of people mentioned that the discussions set-up didn’t encourage involvement.
  • There was a fairly large drop-off rate in participation. 135 people signed up, about 30-40 of those introduced themselves, but an average of about 10-15 participated throughout. Unless people posted to the discussions area it was difficult to know whether they had completed the activities (there’s a possibility that some people did!).
  • Feedback suggests that time, staffing issues and work/life commitments were the main barriers to participating in the workshop. Access to Internet and quality of connection were also cited as barriers.
  • The need to take responsibility and control for one’s own learning was a challenge. One person commented that if it’s face-to-face you can’t prioritise other things like you can when it’s online. It’s much easier to put off when there’s no immediate call for attention and action.

Those who actively participated reported that they enjoyed it, learned a lot and would use their skills in the workplace.

In terms of meeting outcomes of the project, there is evidence to suggest that participants gained new awareness of tools that support personal learning, gained new confidence in using social media, and have started to build a network of peers with shared interests.

The conversation continues on Yammer. If you’re interested in joining the network, you can do so at: https://www.yammer.com/personallearningnetworks/

An open call to collaborate

A post from Lisa Pattoni, the head of the innovation and improvement programme at IRISS. Here Lisa reflects on the development of a new place-based project at IRISS and the journey of ‘walking the talk’ to ensure that our process fits with our aspirations.

At IRISS, we’re excited to be developing a new project designed to support more effective collaboration between those living and working in communities. However, at this stage, we don’t have a name for the project, a specific theme, or a partner. This is because we are hoping to collaboratively design this shared piece of work.  We want to make sure that the collaborative approach is modelled throughout the project from the very start to the end.

This is new way of working for us (although, we’re pretty sure that others have done this type of work before), We’re usually able to choose a partner based on best fit with the theme that we’ve predetermined. Working from that point in is quite easy! Instead, this project is about genuinely building the work  from the bottom up – which means no predetermined theme or topic – just responding to local needs and issues.  It’s also new because we are hoping to work across different agents within the system – taking a ‘deep dive’ approach – to see what change we can actually make together over a longer period of time.

The trouble with this is being open enough to engage people’s curiosity about the work, but not being too vague as to put people off! And, we’ve found that the balance between being clear/easy to understand, and being open/not predetermined, is hard (really hard) to do.

Here are some of our reflections based on the learning so far.


As a first step, we put together some text. We agonised over this internally, trying to make sure that there was enough of a ‘hook’ to show people that we are serious and committed to the work, but also giving enough space to enable people to see how this could link in with local priorities.

We decided to ask a group of critical friends for feedback. And thank goodness for that! This feedback was both fascinating and invaluable. We received comments ranging from ‘you need to be more specific’, to ‘people will want to know more before they engage’ and ‘isn’t this best teased out in conversation, rather than an application process?’

In our view, the perceptions from the group we’d engaged with represented a spectrum of attitudes towards project management, tolerance of risk and comfort with uncertainty. Many of these attitudes had been represented within IRISS too.


In part, due to the fact that we were unable to be specific about the substance (topic) of the work, we ended up being too specific about our own ideas for how the work might pan out. We hoped that this might give the audience something to hook into, so that they’d know we were committed and that we had lots of ideas.

To some extent we were conscious that because we’re not offering any additional funding for this work, that we’d need to sell ourselves! However, it had the opposite effect.

Unfortunately, feedback suggested that this actually read as ‘us’ and ‘them’ rather than being the explicit message that we’d hoped to impart about it being a collective ‘we’ relationship. It meant that many were left asking themselves questions around the extent to which the work is something we were inviting people to participate in, or if our ambition was to co-design the whole thing e.g. is it ‘your’ programme or is it ‘our’ programme.


We had lots of ideas about activities we might undertake with partners, but not so many about the process of choosing a partner. One of our critical friends rightly highlighted that our original process straddled two paradigms – a competition based paradigm where partners would bid to work with us and we’d decide who fit the criteria; and a contrasting paradigm that tries to support shared ownership. Feedback highlighted that by selecting a partner in the process (as was described) could be considered to be reinforcing an ‘expert’ power dynamic.

This was quite difficult for us to hear because this ‘expert’ notion is one of the very things we want to challenge!  As an organisation we were really keen to go down the second route, but we weren’t sure how, or what it would be like to give up the single power of decision making (this is something we hope to reflect on throughout the project process).

We are still not 100% sure, but are willing to give it a try and have adapted our model to try some collaborative decision making out. This is new and risky for us… but also very exciting. We’re clear that this doesn’t mean giving away all of the power, but that we all have a stake in the decision making, because it is shared.


We’ve been lucky enough to be supported by people who have experience in this type of work. Their top tips included:

  • it’s more important to get people intrigued and curious, than give the impression that everything is sorted out
  • try to be specific about what you want to get out of the project, so that the ambitions of the work are clear from the outset
  • In systems approaches, the starting point matters as a way of modelling the principles you are working to, and so be careful of the tone of your starting point


Taking time to reflect at IRISS

A guest post from Rhiann McLean – a project manager in IRISS’ Innovation and Improvement team.  Rhiann recently led the team on an outdoor – walking – reflection.  Read all about their conversation here! 

At the start of the new business year, the Innovation and Improvement team at IRISS benefitted from an away day together.  On this day, we reflected on the year gone by, planned new work and rapidly created a prototype for a current project.

We wanted to take opportunities to take time away together.  Taking this time has come from a recognition that sometimes it’s easy to fall into a routine of doing – meeting deadlines, writing outputs and planning events, all of which restrict the time for reflection.  

We are using these sessions to think about:

  • how we work together
  • our successes and failures (and what we’re learning from them)
  • the things that inspire us

For me, planning the first session was a) daunting and b) obvious.

As an organisation, we’ve been in a period of change.  We’ve got a new Director, a new strategy and a host of new Board members!  And since a lot of what we do is supporting people to navigate change, I thought that we should use our quarterly session to explore how we were coping with change ourselves.

Before this session, we had spent time in our team meeting practising our active listening skills. This involved taking turns listening to each other before silently writing a  follow up question for our colleague to reflect on later.  We explored how we listen and communicate, and the value of having time to speak without interruption.  In fact, it felt really challenging to speak for two minutes without interruption or feedback.

So what did we get up to?

For our group reflection we went for a walk in the park.  I asked a series of provocative questions around change, culture and how we support each other.  The key to this exercise was to give ourselves the opportunity to speak freely in response to these prompts and to continue to practise active listening.

Why walking?

We took the time to walk around some of the landmarks of Glasgow green (photos) and talked through questions. Some of the questions were adapted from the 100 Questions game from the School of Life

Warning: These question bombs are not for the faint of heart. I took the decision based on how our team works together and conversations had in advance of the session.

rains today

We split into two groups and answered the questions with our team members before leaving another follow up/related question for the other group to find on their walk and reflect on.

Little buckets [like this one] were left in the park for people to leave their follow up questions in.

Sidenote: one of the buckets went missing – and we hope it loves its new home.

Each group was asked:

  1. What is your gut reaction to big changes in your life or work?
  2. What work were you doing the last time you lost time altogether?
  3. Would other people consider you a good listener?
  4. Which of your talents is the world in danger of overlooking?
  5. What have been some of your most successful working relationships and why?

Wee note: we put some verbal confidentiality agreements in place within our groups about what we wanted to share at lunch as well as what we wanted to share on our walk outside. This helped us stay with the questions and be open with our responses without fear or blame.

After we had discussed the questions and answered the follow ups from our colleagues, we had a meal together to discuss:

  • how we wanted to support each other and communicate
  • the work that excited us – and how to do more of it
  • how we wanted to continue to reflect together

For me, the real learning from this session was about the importance of taking time away – preferably in the outdoors to talk about the work we do. Part of me wondered if this was the first time that we as a team had really acknowledged the changes we were experiencing and how they were affecting us.

The day also gave us the opportunity to recognise that working alone on projects can be isolating – we need more time to learn from each other.   As a result, we’ve made the decision to host a quarterly team reflection session.

We want to continue to reflect and support each other, so this is only the beginning…


Preserving the history of social work

Stories from children’s migration

In 2007, IRISS undertook a digital preservation project to share – and safeguard – the migration story of the 10,000 “orphans, waifs and strays” who emigrated to Canada between 1869 and 1939.

The Golden Bridge was first created as a exhibition at the Heatherbank Museum of Social Work in Glasgow.  When the museum’s public exhibition space closed, IRISS worked with the exhibition’s curator and archivist to digitise the photographs, documents and stories and give them a home on the web. In this new format, the Golden Bridge exhibition is protected from age and damage. It’s also become an interactive tool for learning and sharing this migration story – with the ability to provide new ways of seeing this part of Scotland’s history.

We recently redesigned the Golden Bridge website. Why? Back in 2007, the original website wasn’t designed to be responsive, meaning it wasn’t designed to display on mobile phones or tablets. The advent of the Smartphone changed how people accessed the web, and given the growth in popularity of mobile devices, it was considered important to redesign Golden Bridge to ensure it was fit for purpose and continued to reach a wide audience. This redesign gives us a good excuse to take the lid off our work and share a ‘behind-the-scenes’ look at the knowledge and effort that went in to digitising this exhibition.

The Golden Bridge represents the collective effort of our knowledge media and evidence-informed practice teams. It draws on our skills as interactive web developers and designers, as well as our knowledge of digital preservation.  We learned to build a resource that reflects the visual elements of the 19th century and the interactive web developments of the 21st. We made use of tool called Zoomify, typically used for online maps, to enable visitors to zoom in on the detail of these historical photos.  Documents were scanned to capture the original Narratives of Facts which detailed the work of the Orphan Homes of Scotland and we captured the expert knowledge of the original exhibitions’ curator, Alastair Ramage, to ensure this migration story was not lost.

This resource draws on the value of stories to understand Scotland’s social services.  As Alastair Ramage suggests, this is “a story that needs to be told again and again to remind us how easy it is to stigmatise a whole group of vulnerable people – especially children”.

Listen to our IRISS.fm episode to hear more about ‘how’ we built this resource and what it has meant to us an organisation.

Related articles:

Preserving and re-presenting Social Work History with New Media: Digitizing the Golden Bridge Exhibition

Retelling the Past Using New Technologies: A Case Study into the Digitization of Social Work Heritage Material and the Creation of a Virtual Exhibition