Published: October 2019
Social workers require good digital skills and capabilities to support their complex role.
A wide range of stakeholders – from practitioners and people who use services, to tech developers and educators – have a role to play in supporting the development of digital capabilities.
This report outlines the key messages and findings for social workers and all those stakeholders, based on the initial phase of the Digital capabilities for social workers project delivered by SCIE and BASW. The report aims to share insights with the sector, support debate, and inform the development of the projects’ future resources.
The report is based on a rapid literature review, stakeholder Advisory Group meetings, two workshops attended by over 40 social workers in different roles and seniority, a survey completed by 648 respondents, and interviews with 15 key sector leaders.
In this project, “digital technology” is conceptualised as:
- Electronic systems (hardware and software) to facilitate day-to-day work of and by social workers (e.g. email, electronic record systems, business software)
- Online resources for professionals and people using services (e.g. apps and websites)
- Assistive technologies for people using services (e.g. communication aids and robotics)
- Social media and social networking interfaces (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Skype, WhatsApp)
- Informatics and the use of data reports and analytics by social workers to monitor and improve services (e.g. performance management software)
- Hardware (e.g. mobile devices and web enabled laptops)
- Online learning (e.g. professional e-learning, online courses, webinars, online communities of practice).
The term expert by experience (EbE) is used to refer to people who use social work services – including adults, children, families and carers.
This section explains the policy context for the Digital capabilities for social workers project.
Recent government policies have prioritised digital technology, including ‘data revolution’ and Artificial Intelligence. (For a historical overview, see p. 16 -21 of the 2018 House of Lords Report ‘AI in the UK: ready, willing and able?’)
The Government’s 2017 White Paper Industrial Strategy: building a Britain fit for the future proposed that
We will put the UK at the forefront of the artificial intelligence and data revolutionand identified the health and care sectors as potential innovators. Within the NHS, the policy framework encompasses “better’ use of data to understand need and plan service, quickening the availability of data for care planning and ensuring that the workforce is digitally literate and ready.
The 2018 Department of Health and Social Care policy paper The future of healthcare: our vision for digital, data and technology in health and care argued that
[t]he potential of cutting-edge technologies to support preventative, predictive and personalised care is huge. (NHS Long Term Plan)
Allied to these, there is an underpinning assumption that digital technology will lead to the achievement of longstanding policy ambition for better integration within NHS services and between health and social care. (Kings Fund. 2018. Digital change in health and social care)
It is recognised that for these aims to be realised, there is the need to ensure that the workforce is digitally ready. Thus, the NHS Personalised Health and Care 2020 addressed workforce readiness, arguing that
In future, all members of the health, care and social care workforce must have the knowledge, skills and characteristics that are necessary to embrace information, data and technology, appropriate to their role.
In the NHS, the workforce implications of the ongoing policy of digitisation has been addressed through the Building a Digitally Ready Workforce Programme (BDRW) which seeks to equip health and care professionals within the NHS with the requisite skills. This is contained in A Health and Care Digital Capabilities Framework which
outlines generic capabilities that support individual motivation and development. Crucially, the framework promotes positive attitudes towards change, technology and innovation.
However, for social workers, digital capability is now a measure of professional capability as this is included in the Professional Capabilities Framework.
Digitisation in social care
In the wider social care sector, the policy framework is fragmented, reflecting the spread of responsibility across different government departments. Developments in adult social care appear driven by the NHS policy agenda. For example connected social care is about how tech can drive choice and cost efficiencies in adult social care while the technology workforce survey explored workforce digital readiness. Paralleling these, under the Local Digital Fund, the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government financed skills training and infrastructure for local authorities and the third sector. An example is the Family context in children’s services
This brief policy overview highlights the concerns about fragmentation alongside aspirations for technology to enable integration of services and a quest to ensure workforce readiness. Furthermore because multiple government departments have responsibility for social work, there are many stakeholders in discussions about digital capabilities.
What stakeholders can do including: social workers, managers, educators, tech developers, experts by experience, national bodies and policy makers.
Summary of findings from literature review, survey, workshops and interviews, plus list of key references.
Examples of local authorities, care providers and educators using digital technology and supporting social workers’ digital capabilities.