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Social networking is the logical extension of our human tendencies toward togetherness, whether that socialization is down the hall or across the world. (Weaver and Morrison, 2008, p100)

A report from the Local Government Information Unit report echoes this sentiment, arguing that it is redundant to talk about ‘using the web’ as these techniques and tools are more or less fully integrated into the way in which we work.

… It’s vital to mainstream the mindset as well as the technology and ensure that the best aspects of the web – open, collaborative, non hierarchical and thus, ultimately, democratic – are central to all our activities online and off.

NESTA acknowledges that engaging with social media presents new challenges to the structure, working culture, staff management and technical strategy for councils, and that there are risks. But it goes on to say that not engaging represents a far greater risk.

The challenge for all councils now is to move social media off their list of challenges and on to their list of opportunities. If they don’t, they face moving into a changing world under equipped and under-resourced. If they do though, they may find that the solutions they seek are right under their nose.

The Continuous Learning Framework sets out what people in the social service workforce need to be able to do their job well now and in the future and describes what employers need to do to support them. It states that an individual can be committed to doing a good job but unless they are part of an organisation that supports them to learn it can be very difficult to make the most of their capabilities. The organisational capabilities describe the culture and conditions in the workplace that enable social service workers to be the best they can be. There are six organisational capabilities, and four are of particular relevance:

  • creating a learning and performance culture
  • planning for learning, development and improved practice
  • promoting access to learning and development opportunities
  • promoting access to feedback

The Framework describes four stages of organisational capability: engaged, established, accomplished and exemplary. The minimum level is engaged, in which the organisation has an awareness of the organisational capability and has made a commitment to develop it, and where there is some evidence that systems and processes have been developed to support the organisational capability, taking account of the needs and views of employees and of people who use services and their carers.

We would argue that preventing professionals from developing themselves personally and professionally by using the tools that are currently available in the form of social networking websites means that an organisation does achieve even that minimum level.

Organisations should strive for the top level – exemplary - in which it is recognised for its expertise and innovative approaches to the continuous improvement of the organisational capability, learning from others and regularly sharing what it has learnt with others in other organisations.

At the very least, organisations should keep an open mind to the possibilities opened up social media and social networking. These tools are not a panacea and of themselves will not necessarily deliver benefits. They are, however, predisposed to improving communication, practice and efficiency, reducing costs, and widening participation. As we know, man is a tool-using animal. But, without access to these tools, including up to date and fully functional browsers, the social services workforce is denied the opportunity to experiment, learn and unlock their creative potential.

Further, they will become increasingly isolated from the community they serve. The world is using social in ever more inventive ways and public services are in danger of being left behind.

It is interesting to reflect on the paradox that a workforce charged with undertaking highly responsible jobs in the community is apparently not trusted to act responsibly in the online community.

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Cornwall's social media policy

Cornwall Council has implemented a social media policy which encourages the responsible use of social media by staff and elected emembers. It includes a 'passport: every employee who wishes to use social media completes an application, or business case, which is considered by the council's Internet and Email Monitoring Panel.
The reason for this is so that the council can maintain 'an accurate and up-to-date record of which personnel or departments are using social media and that the communications service can offer advice and guidance if it is required'