SCIE Report 1: Listening exercise - Summary of findings

Published November 2002

Section 1: Introduction & Background

This report summarises the findings of the SCIE Listening Exercise, which took place between February and July 2002. SCIE is an independent organisation created in response to the government drive to improve quality in social care services across England and Wales. It was launched in October 2001, has around 30 permanent staff and a board of 12 trustees who guide its work and ensure its independence SCIE has three main functions:

As SCIE is a new organisation, it was considered appropriate during its first year to carry out a special Listening Exercise project. The purpose of the Listening Exercise was twofold: to inform people about the work of SCIE to date and, more importantly, to gather views from the field about areas of social care that need development and what SCIE's role in this development might be. SCIE's policy is to involve as wide a constituency of people and organisations as possible from social care in the establishment of its work programme.

Section 2: Exercise

The Listening Exercise carried out during the first half of the year 2002 had three main aspects:

Regional workshop days

Views logged on the SCIE website

Regional Groups

Section 3: Summary

Across the board, respondents were agreed that SCIE could help social care services to address many of the problems identified in the Listening Exercise and make a real contribution to improving quality in Social Care. There were lots of ideas about how SCIE could achieve this, but some concern that the organisation is being asked to take on too much. There were suggestions that SCIE clarify what it does, and the nature of its relationships with other bodies.

The Listening Exercise also gave rise to a wide range of concerns about social care itself, from the involvement of users and carers in service design through to strategic issues. Respondents found serious problems, and made suggestions for improvement in a number of areas of professional activity.

How SCIE can help

1. Involving users and carers

There was a strong feeling that services were not designed around the needs of users and carers, and that these groups should be more involved in design and delivery.

SCIE was told that it should lead by example, involving service users and carers in a meaningful way and ensuring full participation by service users and carers in SCIE's work. All groups were agreed that SCIE could provide access to a range of resources for users, carers, practitioners and partner organisations. Users and carers looked to SCIE to provide carers with materials and expertise, and believed the organisation could help build a professional identity for them.

SCIE is involving users in the strategic direction of its work. Users are members of the SCIE board and we are now consulting on the establishment and composition of our Partners Council. SCIE draws on user expertise in all project work and, to assist this, has a specific project to produce a database of user networks. Another project is looking at the design of the electronic Library for Social Care (eLSC) to improve its accessibility for people with learning disabilities and their supporters.

Some projects in SCIE's work programme have already been shaped by the Listening Exercise. For example, we have new projects on user participation in the new social work degree and on developing managers' skills in involving users.

2. Joined-up working

The need for greater understanding and co-operation between organisations involved in the provision of social care, and the various specialists that comprise them, was a major theme, and was reflected in responses covering a range of areas for improvement.

Many respondents believed that SCIE should have a role in bringing together practitioners and organisations - both physically and by facilitating remote communication. Practitioner networks, making available contacts, providing databases of services and offering links to regions and other bodies were all suggested.

We are currently looking at how to use networks to share best practice and to develop, test and disseminate SCIE's work.

The regional groups that SCIE will run over the next year will help us to do this, and will be actively involved in helping the Best Practice Guides to reach their audiences.

3. Guidelines, processes and procedures

From planning through to general management and supervision of care practitioners, better application of guidelines, processes and procedures represented a means to improving services. Perhaps unsurprisingly, practitioners and front line staff focused on issues related to their own work and the well-being of clients, whilst managers concentrated more on management systems and procedures, quality and compliance issues. Researchers, trainers and planners were concerned with promoting standards, better and clearer bureaucratic procedures and cultures that enabled better practice. There was a general feeling across the groups that less paperwork would be welcome.

4. Good practice and research

All groups felt SCIE should make available good practice and research to those in the field, through a range of media. A wide range of topics was suggested for coverage in Best Practice Guides, and respondents cautioned that they should not be over-prescriptive. There was a feeling that people know what they are meant to be doing; SCIE could help by sharing knowledge about how best to improve practice.

Comments on the ways in which Best Practice Guides might be of use to service users and providers will help SCIE to think about the function of the Guides. In the next few months SCIE will produce consultation papers setting out how SCIE intends to design future in Best Practice Guides and how they will be produced.

5. Standards and benchmarking

It was felt amongst professionals that SCIE could develop and promote national standards and undertake benchmarking and auditing, and that the organisation could set standards of good research practice. An alternative point of view was that SCIE should concentrate on being a forum for sharing ideas.

SCIE's work will inform the practice of those organisations responsible for regulation and standard setting. SCIE works closely with the General Social Care Council (GSCC) (which regulates social work training), with the Care Standards Commission and with the Department of Health on a research governance framework for social care.

6. Representing social care

Some respondents felt that SCIE might act as a lobby group for care services, pressuring government for change, and bringing clarity to the relationships between national bodies. SCIE has been happy to accept the proposal made by David Behan at the annual social services conference in October 2002 that SCIE should convene a leaders' group "that would act as a real voice for social care in the future".

7. Making it work

Various methods of disseminating information, transferring skills and exchanging ideas were suggested including the Internet and e-mail; newsletters, research reports and brochures; audio, video and chat-lines; and events such as conferences, seminars and workshops. There was a view that SCIE should be the point from which good practice is disseminated and that SCE should provide better (rather than more) information in a clear and well presented form.

SCIE is working to develop and enhance the electronic Library for Social Care (eLSC), will produce a regular newsletter and has its first annual conference 'Knowledge into Practice' on 9 December 2002. SCIE will seek regular feedback on the dissemination and presentation of its work.

Other issues of concern

8. Training

Workplace training was an important issue across the board. Training was seen as fulfilling a number of functions - raising skills, facilitating joint-working, exposing practitioners to the experiences of others and further professionalising services. It was seen as relevant to users and carers as well as providers of services, and by non-statutory as well as statutory organisations.

9. Insufficient resources

Staffing levels and insufficient funding were mentioned by many as priorities they would like to see addressed.

10. Uneven services

There was concern that services were not of uniform quality - either geographically or across various user groups.

11. Communication

Communication, both within and between organisations, was considered a central issue by all of the main groups of respondents.

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