Conventional local authority community care systems were set up in the 1990s to ration funds through the deployment of large care management systems leading to a high cost administration systems. Over the years these Community Care systems have become hardwired into the structures, processes and technology of local authorities making change almost impossible even for the most inspired of leaders, commissioners and staff. By 2011 for every £3 spent £1 was used deciding what the other £2 should be spent on!
The high cost, processing and policing focus of current systems has run its course as systems struggle to keep up with the person centred nature of personal budgets. In fact these very systems, set up to save cost are in danger of killing off the very creativity and self-management personal budgets release, which reduce costs and improve outcomes for people in the long term. Most experienced social workers, myself included, despair at the way the current system works against their best efforts to help people lead their best life. We are shocked by our own lack of power to change the system from the inside. An interesting side-effect has been the growth in the number of public servants choosing to move outside conventional public service structures into the social business space to achieve radical change through new ethical structures that uniquely combine social purpose and business discipline.
In these emerging social businesses founders can create, test and deploy new operational methods at speed. More often than not these are underpinned with new technology, and reduce costs and improve communication in innovative ways that traditional services and suppliers, long wedded to established methods of working, simply don’t have in their tool kit. This type of agile development is simply not possible within the local authority corporate structures.
As a social worker by profession, I know first-hand how difficult it is to innovate within established social care structures and this is perhaps one of the main reasons behind the current vogue of ‘spinning out’ services under local authority control, into independent bodies where they have much more scope for innovation. While this promises to, and often does improve the quality of service in many areas, outsourcing existing services and operating models, even to inspired new staff groups, does not bring the radical change needed for a significant step change in service provision to meet increasing demand with diminishing resources.
For this to happen, we need to look to ‘spinning in’ operating models and tools that are totally new to the care sector so it can directly benefit from al the innovation that is out there. Let’s just take the simple process of public servants communicating with local people. We’re already seeing some local authorities adopting new communications tools, apps like Breezie and Mindings – which make social media accessible for older adults and enable easy communication between families.
Another example is MyChoicePad converting Makaton symbol based communication for people with learning disabilities onto iPads with teaching support, while Lingoing is developing a digital platform that efficiently connects validated, quality assured interpreters and translators with deaf and other people.
My own organisation, MySupportBroker has started using LivePerson live chat technology to engage with consumers confidentially online in real time. This offers an extremely fast, efficient and consumer-friendly way to establish and record important information relating to that person’s care needs, which can then be shared with other bodies.
Local authorities can adopt these social business led technologies in a number of ways. At Enfield Council and Enfield NHS CCG, MySupportBroker peers are working alongside clinicians and social care professionals to help people change their lives. Meanwhile Lewisham Council has licensed our technology, systems and processes to drive radical change with thir own social care staff.
By adopting or ‘spinning-in’ these new technologies and operating models, local authorities can benefit from the widening of the market for care services, without jeopardising their existing system and workflows.
Whatever reservations the sector may have about personal budgets and The Care Act, this opportunity for innovation in the care system is unique in our time, made possible by the advent of personal budgets and the digital economy. We can’t deny that the opportunity for innovation and positive change is tremendous and that social businesses will lead the way if given the opportunity.
By Sinead Brophy – Founder/CEO My Support Broker