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Joe Tibbetts is the publisher and managing editor of I-D Information Daily; Public Service Digital and Healthcare Innovation Monitor. He has advised numerous public sector organisations on their communications.

@joe_tibbetts

Focus on staff engagement to drive service user take up of digital social care

Social care departments are being advised to focus on persuading their staff of the benefits of ‘digital’ if they are to make more progress in getting social care service users and their carers to use online services.

The latest briefing in the Engaging Citizens Online series developed jointly by Socitm, the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) says that all employees and partners involved in the delivery of social care must understand how online facilities work and why they are increasingly important.

Employees should be seen as digital champions, able to persuade those clients and carers who have not yet done so to go online, and the briefing cites councils where employee and partner engagement has been a core activity in driving online takeup.

Staff engagement has been a core activity in campaigns around self-service run by Kirklees Council while Liverpool City Council put on a series of awareness-raising sessions for Careline, its front line service for Adult Social Care and Health. Sessions aimed to enhance staff knowledge of Liverpool’s LiveWell site, a directory of the city’s resources that provides information and options for care and support as well as social activities and clubs.

The sessions enabled staff improve their own signposting of callers to services, but also encouraged them to promote self-service. In Hertfordshire, the Enabling the Worker programme focused on increasing the digital know-how of its workforce so that employees can then develop into digital champions.

Where employees understand and are able readily to access online systems they can help those they come into contact with with use the same facilities. This can be achieved by full training sessions or less detailed awareness sessions, depending on the roles of the people involved.

Employees are the best advocates of using digital services, says the briefing, because many deal directly with the customers, whether clients or carers, and so are ideally placed to influence them positively. They can also create the expectation of council services moving online and help people adapt to this. If they themselves are happy with the change, then this will transmit to customers.

In addition, as likely local residents they can also be powerful champions by word of mouth with family, friends, and neighbours. The converse is also true. If employees are unhappy or negative about the change, they can quickly subvert it and become a major barrier to its success.

Social care departments should also be collaborating with and promoting corporate digital inclusion programmes of awareness, training and ongoing support, whether or not online social care services are being introduced, and must learn how to support online takeup through assisted digital approaches.

To achieve this they need to develop a good understanding of current trends in the development of the internet and, in particular, of the major influences affecting the digital divide.

Promotion of online services can be downloaded free of charge from https://www.socitm.net/research-improvement/engaging-citizens-online

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