The social work sector is hardly a technological wasteland – our job is in service provision and demand is growing fast – but current state of technology worries some at the movement’s highest levels. Of the 100 entries for the Social Work Review 2018, some 50% mentioned frontline projects “not being done as well as we can” or a lack of focus on accountability or letting technology bypass people and impact their work.
Other issues cited in social work are challenging workers to keep up with changes in technology, support staff not being appropriately trained to use tools, and a lack of positive role models in the sector. It’s a timely reminder that we need to reclaim our role, acknowledge the current challenges and address them now.
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At this difficult time, isn’t it more important to embrace technology and embrace the future than retreating from it? In the words of the former head of science at the Department of Health, Sarah Brien: “when you build a software application, people keep it. But when you build a system with a chain of decisions …”
If you’re still not sure how to embrace technology, why not take some cues from the social work sector’s most high-profile champion of social media, Navneet Alang, who has revolutionised her sector with the power of the often overlooked images and memes she shares on her popular Instagram account @navneetAlang. Her work was recently featured in an article for West Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust.
Quite simply, she has developed a social media strategy that uses humour and meaningful, regular posts that tell a story. It makes her social media account authentic and personal, and is a significant difference in how people engage with us at a time when we are continually asked to produce the next magic bullet to provide true value to people.
It’s clear that in the current climate, social media is particularly powerful when it engages with people’s lives on the ground, and works effectively to inform community leaders, engage young people, and create awareness and an appetite for organisations to step up and take on difficult and challenging work.
For instance, there was recent research that suggested we should take social media posts from young people seriously and view them as a means to engage, educate and shape them in practice. This is hugely important, as young people have complex lives that are often challenging but they can also be highly positive – better still, equipped to engage and provide positive services.
Since the release of my recent white paper, Working with technology to enable the social worker, the sector has often thought of technology as an afterthought and solely a technical matter. It is important that tech is thought of as the gateway, not just a means to deliver an end.
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We cannot make the mistake of thinking technology is the answer to social workers’ problems; we must both have the courage to consider and imagine how we can use it to improve our practice and, crucially, how we can use it to transform our world.
Cathy Cuddy has said “to be transparent is not to humiliate.” It is great when we can question how we use technology and how we can have greater effect, but it is also important that we build a real discussion around how to use technology to make the lives of our social workers better. Technology isn’t the answer, but the technological answer is that we work with technology as part of our work and operate with it rather than when it comes out of the blue and threatens to ruin everything that’s good about us.
Commenting on the social work review in the 2016 HBR Review of Innovation – Adapted for Purpose, a popular thinktank that measures how well ideas are commercialized and applied – says that “the search for the next big thing gets a bad rap.” As all the entrants in the Social Work Review 2018 highlighted, nothing can ever be “the next big thing” – but if we are not making meaningful use of what we have, the searches for the next big thing will continue.