Digital innovation in adult social care: how we’ve been supporting communities during COVID-19 - executive summary

The Local Government Association (LGA) and Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) commissioned the Institute of Public Care at Oxford Brookes University to work with councils in capturing examples of social care digital innovation across local government in a new report.

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What we have done, what we have learned and what next for digital innovation in adult social care."

We are all affected by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in our daily lives. Despite the many challenges, we have seen the adult social care sector and more broadly local government adapt at scale and pace to support communities through this time.

Technology has had a significant role to play in supporting the work of councils, in collaboration with local partners and communities.

Councils have adapted to new challenges to protect vulnerable people from risk of infection whilst making sure they continue to receive personalised care and support. They have worked creatively with providers to ensure that care workers, who are self-isolating and unable to care in person, can continue to work. They have also had to find easy and safe ways for family members, neighbours, volunteers and local community services to play their part in supporting people.

Councils are increasingly putting themselves at the forefront of using technology to sustain and enhance important activities that help keep people stay connected, safe and well.

However, whilst progress is being made, councils are facing extraordinary and ongoing funding pressures. Only 4 per cent of directors of adult social care are fully confident that their budget is sufficient to meet statutory duties. Unsurprisingly, this reduces the ability for councils to invest in technology and digital services sustainably and makes it challenging to find evidence to make the business case for technology, innovate at scale or move beyond one-off funded projects.

We know that technology alone will not solve all the challenges facing social care and the NHS, but it can, under the right conditions, be an enabler of preventative, personalised and joined up care and support.

 

About this report

The full report has three parts:

  1. What have we done to support the use of technology for connection, wellbeing and bringing communities closer together?
  2. What have we learned about the factors which lead to successful digital innovation in adult social care and those that don’t? 
  3. What next if we want to keep up the momentum and sustain new learning, approaches and ways of working?

For councils, it is hoped that this report is a useful stock take of recent digital activity across local government which can be used to promote and stimulate continued work in this area with local communities.

For national bodies (including the government in collaboration with the LGA, ADASS and partners), this report captures key areas of continued work needed to enable successful and sustainable digital innovation in adult social care.

The report comes at a time when the health and social care sector has been making repeated calls to the government to resolve the immediate financial pressures arising from COVID-19 and to address the long-term funding and reform of adult social care.

The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) statements to help shape adult social care reform places digital at the heart of that reform:

It is vital that we harness all of the power that technology and digital innovations offer us.”
Adult Social Care – Shaping a Better Future

1. What have we done?

This section includes case study examples of digital innovation in adult social care, although it is important to remember that social care is embedded in a wider network of local government functions that enable people in communities to live the lives they want to lead.

This section is grouped into the following four themes, although these are not mutually exclusive and are enablers of each other.

  • Promoting wellbeing and independence
  • Flexible and enabled working
  • Digital for everyone
  • Working together with partners

In each theme, we link with Think Local Act Personal’s ‘Making it Real’ Framework which articulates what co-produced, personalised and community-based support looks like.

2. What have we learned?
  • Councils can, with the right resources, drive forward local innovation and transformation across adult social care at pace and scale.
  • Digital transformation requires strong leadership and an organisational culture that encourages innovation.
  • Progress is underpinned by strong, and in most cases long-term, partnerships.
  • Digital technology can help people maintain daily activities which are important to them as well as providing care delivery. There is also an opportunity to use technology preventatively in the context of early intervention, individual resilience and taking a whole person approach.
  • A more permissive environment and targeted funding has made it easier for local partners to work together and provide accessible and personalised care and support.

However, there are still challenges and opportunities for further development. The sector has come a long way in a short space of time to lead communities through the ongoing pandemic, but digital transformation works best when embedded in a wider network of localised support, training and infrastructure. Also, without adequate ongoing funding and resources, we risk stagnating progress that has been made in this area, limiting innovation or not moving beyond one-off funded pilots or projects.

The last few months have seen local and national government supporting each other and working closer together, but support and resources from national government is most effective when it allows flexibility for local systems to adapt the offer to meet local circumstances. It remains a challenge to evidence the financial benefits from investment in digital, even though there is stronger evidence regarding improved outcomes for people.

3. What next for councils and national bodies?

Key messages for councils

  1. Effective leadership at all levels means that digital innovations can be embedded and sustained. Everyone can play a part: politically, strategically, operationally and across all levels of the organisation.

  2. Consolidate the current enthusiasm and culture change that has enabled digital transformation during the pandemic. Where there are opportunities to explore a digital alternative, explore it. 

  3. Keep working with communities to understand their needs and what is valued and important - and then find the technology to help with that.

  4. Continue to share expertise, experience and knowledge between your organisations and with others including independent care providers, IT suppliers, local organisations, national bodies and people in your communities.

  5. Plan how you will measure the impact of digital at the start of any project or investment. 

  6. Consider what new approaches from recent months you want to stabilise and embed but always with an eye to ‘what next’.

Key messages for national bodies

  1. Co-produce your approach to digital with people, carers and families, who are the experts by experience, to understand what is valued and important to them.
  2. Invest in digital to support longer-term adult social care reform. Digital transformation is about sustainable investment in people, communities, staff and approaches. Proper funding will support the levelling up of the digital offer to people in every community.
  3. The broader opportunities that technology offers in enabling people to live the lives they want to lead should be considered in national programmes and digital funding opportunities.
  4. Councils are good at working in an agile, developmental way and this should be supported nationally.
  5. Help develop some practical and tailored materials and tools with the sector which enable councils to better measure the impact of local digital activity.
  6. Remove the barriers to innovation in national policy guidance, regulations and practice to create an environment which is more supportive of digital innovation and adoption going forwards.
4. Appendix: Social care digital tools and resources for councils

Below are a number of practical tools and resources to support councils with their local digital innovation activity. It is not exhaustive and is made up of resources cited by councils and key partners as this report was developed.

If there are other tools or resources you are aware of which might help other councils, please let us know at socialcaredigital@local.gov.uk.

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