Tris Brown, our communications and media guru, guest blogs from a session exploring how digital creativity and design thinking could come together with people with social care related problems to solve.

Ever wondered what would happen if the world of geekdom met up with the world of adult social care?  I accept this is not something anyone stays up late at night thinking about – except a man called Max Zadow.  Founder of Digital Creativity in Disability and physically disabled himself, Max is a self-confessed Geek and has long been interested in what would happen if people from the two different cultures came together to identify problem areas in adult social care in which technology could provide a novel solution.

One cold Friday at Liverpool’s Science Park, several members of a local social care team commissioners, social workers and managers came together with disabled people in a room full of entrepreneurs, coders, social media experts and industrial designers.

First order of the day was to identify some problem areas which the room could discuss and apply their mental prowess to.  There were five such areas, but two – transport and common data standards for records – quickly fell by the wayside.  Transport was seen as too big an issue for those present to do anything about, and strangely the group discussing common data standards felt they had ‘solved’ the problem within 5 minutes, but implementation involved significantly more people than were in the room so, after a quick agreement to set up a consortium, coffee and cake, the group disbanded and joined other groups. (By the way, although the issue of common data standards sounds really boring, the care homes present estimate that they spend millions every year just coping with the fact that every resident the care for may arrive with a referral in a different format to everyone else’s)  

That leaves three final groups – Solving Part D; home visitation schedule changes; and the problem of how those using personal budgets are made aware of which services are available.

Of course the final one is of particular interest to Shared Lives Plus whose micro-enterprise members who always face the challenge of letting people know their service exists to be used.

The Part D problem was brought to life with a passionate plea from a care home provider who is regularly given a bonus for taking a resident on a Friday night and then fined on Wednesday when Panel disapproves of the placement.  But the real Eureka moment came when a senior manager was talked through the process for identifying empty beds in the city’s care homes, a process which costs £2m a year but for the geeks present could be easily automated.  It was an excellent example of how our care system has become a complex jumble of systems and processes that even the senior manager present wasn’t aware of how it worked in practice behind the scenes.

Home visitations are the ultimate intrusion into somebody’s personal world.  Needed, sure, but the process by which an individual enters somebody else’s world and interacts with them on a very personal level is always going to be a sensitive issue.  This can only be made worse when real-world challenges such as traffic jams and illness make it difficult to stick to your promised schedule.  For this group the solution was an app which home visitors could use to update their location and their itinerary in real-time, automatically informing the control centre (if they have one) and the care recipient.  Just as incredible was that they then built a working prototype with a live demonstration at the end of the day.  When was the last time anything in Adult Social Care moved that fast?  However, one social worker pointed out the complexity of this solution is going to have to compete with the lo-fi current solution which is to call the home, ring three times and hang up.

The final idea of the day was a plan for an online directory of care and support services which would allow Local Authorities to interact with external providers and list the quality indicators they are most interested in, which service users can then score using a ratings system.  While Shared Lives Plus has an interest in anything which can help our micro-enterprise members, just as strong were calls for the service from disabled people in the room who wanted to be able to hire people for very short periods of time for small tasks.  Knowing plumbers, electricians, wheelchair repairers etc who are disabled-friendly is important to this group.  Amusingly, this topic highlighted perfectly the challenge of bringing these different worlds together…

“Disabled people need Taskrabbit…[silence]…which is like People Per Hour… [more silence] which is a bit like Gumtree…”

“I’ve heard of that!”

Shared Lives Plus is working with to bring innovations in social networking together with innovative and networked approaches to care and support.

One thought on “Geekworks

  1. Bob Williams November 12, 2012 / 9:57 pm

    Could not agree more with this story and approach.

    See the Code for America movement in the US. A formal charitable organisation that takes “geeks” out of industry for a one year sabatical to work in local government. With great results in similar timescales.

    But let’s not limit it to tech, I was at a volunteering organisation recently and they were talking about the challenges of recruiting people and moving them on in cases of ill fitting, so bring in recruitment consultants on a sabatical to set that process up… The list could go on.

    For now here is a great talk on CfA

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