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Current situation in Scotland

We invited social services staff and IT staff all Scottish local authorities to take part in a short survey about their attitudes to social media. We sent invitations to a mailing list of 37 training managers and 74 IT managers. In addition an open invitation was posted on the IRISS mailing list ( approx. 800 subscribers). Table 1 shows the breakdown of the respondents.

Table 1

Social Work Services staff 101
IT Staff 14
Other (trainers, academics, health care workers and information managers) 11

The majority of the respondents (80%) used social media and collaborative working tools and websites, such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Delicious, Digg, discussion forums, blogs and wikis, and media sharing websites such as flickr and YouTube.

However, two-thirds of the social services respondents reported that they had experienced problems in accessing these tools from work: either slow response times, or the resource did not function properly. Over half said that the sites were completely blocked by their IT departments.

Sixty two percent said that their organisation's IT policies prevented access to social media and collaborative working tools, but 58% said that they were aware of the process for requesting the unlocking of specific sites. The comments on this question were interesting though: most respondents said that requests to have sites unlocked were met with criticism and intense questioning on why access was required. In other words the default position is that individual members of staff are required to justify using social media for work purposes. Access might therefore depend to certain extent on the personality, persistence and persuasive skills of the individual.

Some 85% of the social services group said that they used social media from elsewhere (mainly home) when they could not get access from their workplace. Furthermore, the commitment and thirst for knowledge and collaboration shown by these professionals is evident, with 97% accessing the sites in their own time.

The response rate was not high enough to draw statistically valid conclusions, especially from IT staff. The fourteen individuals in this category cited roughly the same concerns highlighted by Socitim (2009).

  • Security concerns, e.g. exposure to viruses, malware and spyware
  • Other security concerns, eg compromising systems or loss of sensitive data
  • Worries about staff wasting time on non work related activities
  • Fears of reputational damage
  • Worries about using too much bandwidth
  • Negative attitude from management

The primary responsibility of IT managers is to secure continuity of services, data security, uptime of systems and prevention for spam and viruses. While we should not understate the need safe and secure data management systems, we also need accommodate innovative uses of web-based collaborative tools. As noted above, Socitm (2009) believes that most of the above concerns can either be overcome, are exaggerated, or are not necessarily the legitimate concern of the IT manager.

In our survey we asked an open ended question about attitudes to social networks and one respondent made the telling point that all web activity can be monitored and action can therefore be taken against misusers. Worryingly one respondent was threatened with disciplinary action after trying to access a social work campaign on Facebook [the campaign in question was run by the Department for Children, Schools & Families and the Department of Health].

We have reproduced the anonymised comments in Appendix 1. We would suggest these indicate a mature and critical approach to social media and a sense of frustration over the absence of a supportive environment.