Getting tech? You’ll need to plug in…

Culture change is about building and maintaining a power grid. Without it, switch-on is a pipe dream, advises Irene Carson

Consider the lightbulb: a miracle of engineering that transforms night back into day, that’s revolutionised life on earth and lights up our world…right up until the moment you unscrew it from its socket, when it becomes a lifeless bit of glass and metal.

Without power sources the electronics that shape our world are just pointless clutter. Clumps of plastic and wiring. And here’s the thing we’ve learnt in four years working with the adult social care teams at dozens of councils: all the clever sensors the market can build, the shiny videophones and the sleek wrist devices are pointless unless you’re able to plug them into your power source: a grid of motivated, empowered, organised, and ambitious stakeholders who share your vision. 

So how do you create and maintain such a power network? And how do you use it to help everyone use, trust and love digital care technology? Our experience has led us to build a model: 12 bundles of interventions that will create the nine conditions needed to make culture change happen. Here’s a flavour…

Your networks are everything

One of our nine conditions to get digital care tech happening is ‘sourcing great tech through effective commissioning’. You can’t do it all yourself. You have to build trust with your tech providers, and get them to drive the horizon scanning.

A great provider will work collaboratively with you, your staff and local people to build a democratic way to evolve your tech offer and respond rapidly to changes in the market and need. And they’ll take the logistical hassle away from keeping the tech working day to day – sourcing, installation, maintenance, decommissioning – so social work professionals can focus on outcomes, not battery life.

By gearing your commissioning towards working closely with providers and local stakeholders you can make sure you stay ahead of the curve.

It takes maintenance to keep the power flowing

Like any power grid, the digitally-enabling culture that wraps around your care model needs regular input and careful maintenance. Culture change is a process; it’s not something you do once and move on from.

Your model will evolve as need changes and a dynamic tech market throws up new solutions.

Market statements will need adapting, training and communications will be continuous, and evaluation and feedback will help shape a dynamic model that’s always striving to do better.

There's a science to this work

At our recent LGA Digital masterclass Stephen Boddington, an innovation lead at Norfolk County Council, shared a technology acceptance framework shaped by his masters in cultural studies (you can find it, along with all slides and the full masterclass, here). Stephen’s team applied it within Norfolk’s pandemic response, with a behavioural intention to bring the benefits of video calls to a socially-isolated cohort of digitally-excluded adults. The framework kept everyone focussed on achieving this goal without prompting scepticism or disappointment from users, or over-exerting the front-line staff implementing it, and on getting the right training in place to build referrals.

“Baselining our client group we found 85% were lonely most or all of the time,” says Stephen. “When we went back three months no one still felt this; feeling lonely ‘hardly ever’ or ‘some of the time’ were the only responses chosen.”

Human responses in a technical framework; heads and hearts together.

Power circuits aren't hierarchical

Culture change can’t work as a top down process but spreads organically so enthusiasm, excitement and determination aren’t siloed in a few teams.

When Kent County Council was getting started on a new adult social care vision two years ago, ‘Making a difference every day’, a new focus was set on embedding a strengths-based approach, embracing change with an open mindset, and making decisions according to a dynamic evidence base.

“Though leaders set the direction of travel we didn’t want a traditional top-down approach,” Gina Walton, a senior project manager within Kent’s innovation delivery team, told our masterclass.

“We had to do a lot of work with middle managers working with the operational teams, because they’re the ones that make it happen. We had to work together with all management levels to make sure everyone was clear on what we were trying to achieve, everyone knew what their role was and it was a shared vision for digital.”

Some will be over-playing the risks

Unpicking barriers to implementing digital care technology culture change we often find risk – procurement, ethics, cost, consent – presented as a deal breaker. Of course these things need careful consideration.

Hard work needs to be done to create a balanced risk analysis…But without a strong, proactive culture – and a shared sense of excitement – so-called risks can slow down care tech projects for too long as pros and cons are debated.

And all the while people are sitting at home with less independence and without the benefits – the joy! – of technology.

We strongly believe technology is a right. Your service users are entitled to it, your teams are entitled to it, so it’s down to all of us to create an enabling culture. We can make the dream a reality for everyone…and we can get that power flowing to illuminate everyone’s lives for the better.

Irene Carson is the managing director of Rethink Partners. She helps organisations explore and discover why people behave as they do and the causes and effects of those behaviours, decisions and policies.

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