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Sunday September 20th, 2009

by Jude Wells, Service Manager (Personalisation), Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council

Stockport MBC has turned to interactive technology to enable a learning, sharing and debating culture within the authority.

Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council’s Adult Social Care Services department was concerned that a number of key messages about the transformation of adult social care were not getting across to staff. In an attempt to create a culture of learning, sharing and debating, staff were encouraged to take full advantage of the council’s innovative communication and engagement programme. Open communication between users, carers, senior management teams and directors was of the utmost importance.

Adult social care is a highly dynamic and complex arena, with dramatic advances in technology, organisational restructures and government initiatives currently taking place. The Adult Social Care Services department conducted a number of ‘roadshows’ with staff groups which indicated that there was a low level of awareness of both the national agenda and local government initiatives. The roadshows also highlighted that traditional methods of communicating with staff were no longer effective.

With over 2000 staff dispersed across an array of locations, we were finding it increasingly difficult to keep communication channels functioning effectively. Our ‘virtual teams’ – those that are not normally based in the office, such as home care staff – were not meeting with their colleagues or managers on a daily basis. This presented many challenges for conveying messages and timely news to these staff. On a number of occasions there were what might be called ‘blips in the system’, with staff hearing news on the grapevine and rumours beginning to spread. This was something that we were keen to end; we wanted to promote a culture of open communication: a sharing of debate and conversation.

We felt that our departmental communication could appear to be a ‘top-down telling’ rather than a department-wide engagement. To address this, a number of media were utilised, including newsletters, monthly staff briefings and the production of a monthly magazine called In touch, which regularly featured a section entitled ‘A day in the life of…’ Although our means of communicating departmental messages and nationwide policies were useful, we could still not guarantee an effective two-way process of communication. We needed to be more creative in our approach; a powerful system that engaged the entire department asking for views and opinions would be key to putting us at the forefront of communication.

A culture change

We were keen to transform and encourage a two-way conversation between our staff and leadership teams. Through an established relationship with OLM Group, we partnered with one of their divisions, OLM-Pavilion, to develop an innovative communication and engagement programme. It was to be delivered through a web-based portal, called CareKnowledge. We were ambitious in our approach, and so sought advice from our strongest asset; our staff.

Our department has embraced the potential of technology through the exploration of blogs, podcasts, ‘talking head’ videos, audio clips and much more. Even the most technophobic are keen to explore the use of technology. Complex issues such as personalisation can now be explained and presented in an informal manner rather than leaving staff to read lengthy strategy and policy documents. At a recent event, many users, carers and voluntary sector personnel were keen to provide feedback on the day and the topics discussed. Instead of offering this through text, they wanted to produce a live feed through video technology in order to relay proceedings back to colleagues who could not attend. Even academics from Germany and Holland have created ‘talking head’ videos from our recent Cities in Balance partnership. 

This interactive technology is proving highly popular among staff. No longer do they read information with no channel to relay their feedback or thoughts through; rather, they are empowered through digital media to offer their thoughts and debate with their colleagues. Terry Dafter, Service Director for Adult Social Care at Stockport, provides a bimonthly ‘What we’re up to’ blog; this has been a real attraction with our staff, recording the most hits on the authority’s intranet.

The implementation of interactive media has driven significant growth in registration for the site; the number of views posted has also increased dramatically. In total, a 70 per cent increase in use has been achieved through the implementation of the portal.

We have received much positive feedback from our staff; the most notable being that experiences conveyed through video and audio clips are much more powerful than traditional text..Many have remarked that this method of communicating and presenting is much stronger than text. Engagement and learning is forging ahead, and even staff who are not au fait with the latest technology are not being put off.

In order for staff to be able to comment on the podcasts, blogs and debates that may arise on the site we are currently implementing an anonymous commenting procedure. We believe that this will boost people’s confidence in expressing their feelings and opinions honestly. We do realise that open communication may bring with it negative comment or feedback.

A thriving community now and in the future

Ultimately, our key goal is to promote inclusion among all employees. We want to involve more users and carers on a day-to-day basis. One way of doing this may be through offering a video diary tool whereby carers can document their day’s experiences to encourage debate and the sharing of knowledge. Staff might also post queries on the site for their colleagues to respond to in order to help resolve a problem. We truly believe that through heightened communication and visibility, a two-way flow of knowledge can take place.

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