This section looks at how first-line managers can use information, it's collection, analysis and application, to support practice development in their team and service development and delivery in the wider organisation.
Contributing to the work of the organisation
There is an enormous resistance to data collection, evaluation, monitoring and inspection. This is often explained by a reluctance on the part of social care workers to 'stand up and be counted', to be specific and focused, to accept and work to standards, to be accountable. There are other reasons also:
- Linear input/output systems don't readily capture the complex and individualised nature of social care.
- In the last 2 decades, social work, along with the rest of the public services has been 'managerialised', (Pollitt C. Managerialism & the Public Services; Oxford, Blackwell 1993) and subject to a proceduralised approach. Developing methods that focus on the outcomes for service users and the knowledge and skills required of workers to achieve these is only beginning to emerge (Parton N. ESRC Seminar 1: Some Thoughts On The Relationship Between Theory & Practice In Social Work; NISW on-line publication)
- There are many influences on this development, not least the defence against the daily work of social care which must remain 'open to real moral, social and political dilemmas, and learn to live with inevitable uncertainty, confusion and doubt.' (Jordan B. A comment on 'Theory & Practice in Social Work' BJSW 8(11) 1978) We constantly question whether social work is a 'rational-technical' or a 'practical-moral' activity? Is it an art or a science?
It is against this backdrop that team managers attempt to define and support good practice in their team. Can you have standards for an art: in what way can workers be accountable, understand whether they are useful and how they might be useful to the users of their services? Systems will need to reflect the arena within which social work operates and of the probable likelihood that data capture will not in itself reflect the complexity of users and their world. It is clearly proper that users have the right to know what they can expect and to state what they want. Indeed, the dual nature of social welfare requires us to provide ourselves with a running commentary of what is and isn't working. That running commentary is our management information, monitoring and evaluation.
The following exercises can be used to think about your own responsibilities as a collector and user of management information, either for your own immediate use or on behalf of the wider organisation. You could also use them with your team to think about the collective responsibility you have for gathering data that can tell you something about effective practice.
Look at the data you collect routinely and choose one set to look at in more details:
- What does the data measure?
- What does the data describe?
- Does the data allow performance to be measured?
- Who might the stakeholders be and how do they construct their knowledge of the service?
- Identify the type of data needed to evaluate the effectiveness of the service provision
When you have answered these questions, you will have considered the 4 elements of any evaluation process:
Measurement: firm statements about how many users receive what sort of services, for what length of time, what range of results are obtained and on what scale. You will note that even basic measurement has qualitative elements: qualitative output, quantitative input.
Description: covers policy & procedures as well as delivery: the aim is to find out whether the service is actually delivered to those for whom it is intended rather than to a different group of users What does the agency wish to achieve with a particular service and who does it wish to apply the service to What kinds of people actually receive the service predicated by a policy statement? What does the service consist of?
Judgement: whether services delivered conform to the values espoused by policy statements. Whether the outcomes achieved by these services are in line with policy requirements.
Values: The key issue is 'whose values' and being explicit about the reference group at any one time.
(adapted from Thorpe D, Thorpe S. Monitoring & Evaluation in the Social Services; Longman 1992) Reproduced by kind permission of Pavilion
How can you and your team make management information work for you and be useful to the organisation you pass it on to? In other words, how do you know what is going on in your Team and what do you do about it?
Data flow and 'need to know'
Data and resulting knowledge can be fed up the organisation, avoiding over-collection, inappropriate and 'dead 'data. That is, all data should be of use to the first-line manager, all stages above and beyond this should need a condensed or particular elements of this data collection.
- What data collection systems do you use as the manager of your service?
- Which of these do you make use of and which do you collect for someone else?
- Do you know what happens to the ones you collect for someone else?
- Do any of these systems serve both?
- What do you do with those data you collect for yourself?
These questions will help you to distinguish how and why you gather information. You may find out that some data are collected when no longer needed; that there may be a better way of answering a question; that one collection of data can serve several purposes at once. Most importantly you look at how you can use the data you collect to contribute to providing a better service?