It’s been a long day at the office.  You are packing to leave when you receive at knock on your door. Stood in the doorway is your elected member who begins eulogising about some fantastic technology they have recently seen.  After only a single encounter with the technology they are convinced this is the panacea the council has been seeking. This exchange may end with a variation of this line “we need to get this into everyone homes, make it happen!”

I hear this story more and more from Directors of Adult Social Care. The way I see it councils are recognising the importance of care technology to achieve better outcomes for service users. 

As an advisor to the care technology sector I see first-hand the drive and passion of councils to embrace innovative care technology to drive service transformation.

The drive and enthusiasm of councils is both genuine and sincere but can often be misguided.  Sometimes driven by a ‘magpie effect’ where Adult Social Care teams are enticed by nice new shiny technology promising the earth.

Only at this point do councils begin to consider how the technology could be used.  Like playing Jeopardy they start with the answer and then work out the question.  The problem with this approach is that expectations for service users and professionals are dashed, the possibility of financial benefits remain unrealised and bits of technology remain on shelves, or worse in a skip.

 

The question for councils is how can enthusiasm for new innovative technology-based services and pathways be harnessed to successfully build a positive human future?

  1. Start with the question, then maintain a laser focus

The question needs to clearly articulate both the issue and desired outcome.  Once you have it maintain a laser focus in on it, do not stray from it. 

It seems simple, but I am amazed how quickly this principle is abandoned as councils are seduced by polished sales pitches or the offer of pro-bono equipment by suppliers.  There is another way, take the example of Essex County Council.

In partnership with the LGA, Essex County Council is developing an innovative new technology approach to reduce the impact of falls.  Their first step was to invest time and effort, so system-wide stakeholders were clear the question to be answered.  Their question is

“How can we minimise the risk, impact and number of falls by encouraging people to stay active and live life to the full, through use and take up of technology”

  1. Always ‘ask a friend’ (and colleague)

System-wide questions need system-wide answers.  One person or organisation cannot be as successful answering the question alone.  The involvement of others and other organisations, including those affected by the issue or with different perspectives is essential. The answer will be better and ownership in the answer will be built easing implementation.

In Essex over 30 senior stakeholders from across the system joined an innovation workshop.  The Workshop generated hundreds of possible answers for how technology could address the question.  The same group prioritised these ideas and developed a consensus around one idea….smart socks.  An answer that had not been considered before.

The approach built buy-in right from the outset that will been is vital in delivering system-wide change.

  1. Hold your idea lightly; embrace the journey.

The smart socks solution now in development has varied from the original conception. 

Stakeholders from across the system were encouraged to develop and build on the original idea.  People affected by the issue and proposed solution were involved.  They shared different perspectives on how the solution will benefit people best. 

The original idea was not held tightly, others were allowed and encouraged to contribute and build on the idea.  

As an outcome the smart socks work has moved in a different and very exciting direction, that has the potential to fundamentally change the way strength and balance classes are delivered.  Increasing and extending the benefit and impact to the individual.

This example demonstrates the power and effectiveness of these principles in Essex County Council’s view:

 “The potential for technology and applying digital principles to problems is still largely untapped in the care sector. Through our digital programme for adult social care we are working through both known technological solutions to problems but also through a process of innovative test and learns where the solutions may not yet be clear. We think the falls project is an exciting example of exploring the potential of technology to link with and enhance strength and balance sessions to prevent and reduce falls.”

Peter Fairley, the Director for Strategy and Integration at Essex County Council

So, the next time your elected member appears full of gusto for a new idea.  Ask them

  • What question they are trying to answer, and outcome to achieve?
  • Is there support from others?
  • How attached are they to this specific solution?

 

Robert Turnbull, PA care technology expert. PA Consulting are welcome sponsors of ADASS which furthers our charitable objectives.