Smarter tourism: solving the data problem to boost tourism and create better cities

By Steven McGinty

On 22 March, I attended ‘Smarter Tourism: Shaping Glasgow’s Data Plan’, an event held as part of DataFest 2017, a week-long festival of data innovation with events hosted across Scotland.

Daniel MacIntyre, from Glasgow City Marketing Bureau (the city’s official marketing organisation), opened the event by highlighting Glasgow’s ambitious target of increasing visitor numbers from two million to three million by 2023.

To achieve this goal, Mr MacIntyre explained that the city would be looking to develop a city data plan, which would outline how the city should use data to solve its challenges and to provide a better experience for tourists.

In many ways, Glasgow’s tourism goal set the context for the presentations that followed, providing the attendees – who included professionals from the technology and tourism sectors, as well as academia and local government – with an understanding of the city’s data needs and how it could be used.

Identifying the problem

From very early on, there was a consensus in the room that tourism bodies have to identify their problems before seeking out data.

A key challenge for Glasgow, Mr MacIntyre explained, was a lack of real time data. Much of the data available to the city’s marketing bureau was historic (sometimes three years old), and gathered through passenger or visitor experience surveys. It was clear that Mr MacIntrye felt that this approach was rather limiting in the 21st century, highlighting that businesses, including restaurants, attractions, and transport providers were all collecting data, and if marketing authorities could work in collaboration and share this data, it could bring a number of benefits.

In essence, Mr MacIntyre saw Glasgow using data in two ways. Firstly, to provide a range of insights, which could support decision making in destination monitoring, development, and marketing. For instance, having data on refuse collection could help ensure timely collections and cleaner streets. A greater understanding of restaurant, bar, and event attendances could help develop Glasgow’s £5.4 million a year night time economy by producing more informed licensing policies. And the effectiveness of the city’s marketing could be improved by capturing insights from social media data, creating more targeted campaigns.

Secondly, data could be used to monitor or evaluate events. For example, the impact of sporting events such as Champions League matches – which increase visitor numbers to Glasgow and provide an economic boost to the city – could be far better understood.

Urban Big Data Centre (UBDC)

One potential solution to Glasgow City Marketing Bureau’s need for data may be organisations such as the Urban Big Data Centre.

Keith Dingwall, Senior Business Manager for the UBDC, explained that the centre supports researchers, policymakers, businesses, third sector organisations, and citizens by providing access to a wide variety of urban data. Example datasets include: housing; health and social care data; transport data; geospatial data; and physical data.

The UBCD is also involved in a number of projects, including the integrated Multimedia City Data (iMCD) project. One interesting aspect of this work involved the extraction of Glasgow-related data streams from multiple online sources, particularly Twitter. The data covers a one year period (1 Dec 2015 – 30 Nov 2015) and could provide insights into the behaviour of citizens or their reaction to particular events; all of which, could be potentially useful for tourism bodies.

Predictive analytics

Predictive analytics, i.e. the combination of data and statistical techniques to make predictions about future events, was a major theme of the day.

Faical Allou, Business Development Manager at Skyscanner, and Dr John Wilson, Senior Lecturer at the University of Strathclyde, presented their Predictive Analytics for Tourism project, which attempted to predict future hotel occupancy rates for Glasgow using travel data from Glasgow and Edinburgh airport.

Glasgow City Marketing Bureau also collaborated on the project – which is not too surprising as there a number of useful applications for travel data, including helping businesses respond better to changing events, understanding the travel patterns of visitors to Glasgow, and recommending personalised products and services that enhance the traveller’s experience (increasing visitor spending in the city).

However, Dr Wilson advised caution, explaining that although patterns could be identified from the data (including spikes in occupancy rates), there were limitations due to the low number of datasets available. In addition, one delegate, highlighted a ‘data gap’, suggesting that the data didn’t cover travellers who flew into Glasgow or Edinburgh but then made onward journeys to other cities.

Uber

Technology-enabled transport company, Uber, has been very successful at using data to provide a more customer oriented service. Although much of Uber’s growth has come from its core app – which allows users to hire a taxi service – they are also introducing innovative new services and integrating their app into platforms such as Google Maps, making it easier for customers to request taxi services.

And in some locations, whilst Uber users are travelling, they will receive local maps, as well as information on nearby eateries through their UberEATS app.

Uber Movement, an initiative which provides access to the anonymised data of over two billion urban trips, has the potential to improve urban planning in cities. It includes data which helps tourism officials, city planners, policymakers and citizens understand the impact of rush hours, events, and road closures in their city.

Chris Yiu, General Manager at Uber, highlighted that people lose weeks of their lives waiting in traffic jams. He suggested that the future of urban travel will involve a combination of good public transport services and car sharing services, such as uberPOOL (an app which allows the user to find local people who are going in their direction), providing the first and last mile of journeys.

Final thoughts

The event was a great opportunity to find out about the data challenges for tourism bodies, as well as initiatives that could potentially provide solutions.

Although a number of interesting issues were raised throughout the day, two key points kept coming to the forefront. These were:

  1. The need to clarify problems and outcomes – Many felt it was important that cities identified the challenges they were looking to address. This could be looked at in many ways, from addressing the need for more real-time data, to a more outcome-based approach, such as the need to achieve a 20% reduction in traffic congestion.
  2. Industry collaboration – Much of a city’s valuable data is held by private sector organisations. It’s therefore important that cities (and their tourism bodies) encourage collaboration for the mutual benefit of all partners involved. Achieving a proposition that provides value to industry will be key to achieving smarter tourism for cities.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team. If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in: 

Introducing the Idox Information Service … supporting evidence use for over 40 years

Exterior of the Idox Information Service office in Glasgow

Exterior of the Idox Information Service office in Glasgow

As a team who work every day to supply evidence and good practice to our clients in the public sector and consultancies, it would be easy to feel a bit down about the ease with which the idea of a post-truth world has taken grip.

In fact however, it’s heartening that so many organisations continue to recognise the value that our service brings. Not only does it offer a continuing professional development resource for staff, it also acts as a channel for knowledge sharing between organisations – helping them when they have to review services, look for efficiencies, or transform what they do in light of changing government policy or priorities.

We know that much of what we do can remain hidden, even to our own members. So let’s go under the bonnet of our unique service …

Who we are

The Idox Information Service is a membership library service, which was established over forty years ago – originally under the name of the Planning Exchange. At the outset, the emphasis was on the provision of resources to support professionals working in planning and the built environment in Scotland, but over the years we’ve expanded our subject coverage to cover the whole spectrum of public sector information, and across the UK.

Our members include policy makers and practitioners from organisations including local authorities, central government, universities, think tanks, consultancies and charities. They work in challenging environments and often need evidence to inform service delivery or decision-making.

Our work

Our team is made up of a mix of researchers, public policy specialists and qualified librarians, along with support staff. They have professional memberships, including chartered membership of CILIP and the Social Research Association. This picture shows the typical range of activities in a year:

2014 statsPublic policy is an ever-evolving subject and so current awareness services are a big part of what we do. Members can set up their own subject alerts on anything that interests them, and we also have a set of weekly and fortnightly updates on common topics. Last year we added three new current awareness updates on Devolution, Smart Cities and of course, Brexit!

UK grey literature is a particular strength of our collection. We spend a lot of time sourcing documents such as technical reports from government agencies, and research reports produced by think tanks, university departments, charities and consultancies which are often overlooked by other databases. Recent research has highlighted the value of grey literature for public policy and practice.

We also write our own research briefings for members on different topics, with more detailed analysis of research and policy developments, and including case studies and good practice. Some of these briefings are publicly available on our publications page.

The interest from members in using our Ask a Researcher service has been increasing, due to the time pressures and other challenges that people face in sourcing and reviewing information. An example looking at the links between employee wellbeing and productivity is on our website. Members regularly comment on the usefulness of the results, and it’s satisfying to be able to make a direct contribution to their work in this way.

Keeping it personal

While our online database allows our members to search for and access resources themselves, there is a strong personal element to our work.

Our members know that we’re always available at the end of the phone or via email to provide them with dedicated support when they need it. It’s important to us that we provide a quality service which keeps pace with the changing needs and expectations of a varied membership base.

Hopefully, this article has provided some insight into the way that the Knowledge Exchange supports staff and organisations across a variety of fields. More information about the service can be found here.


In 2015, the Idox Information Service was recognised as a key organisation supporting evidence use in government and the public sector. It was named by NESTA / Alliance for Useful Evidence / Social Innovation Partnership in their mapping of the UK evidence ecosystem.

We also contribute data to the Social Policy and Practice database, which focuses on health and social care evidence, and is a resource recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

The pop-up reality for youth on the urban fringe

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How do young people feel about the places where they live? And how do the spaces available to them, constrain or shape their activities?  Last week, Margaret Robertson, Professor of Education at La Trobe University in Melbourne presented a seminar at the University of Glasgow which explored these questions. The event was hosted by Glasgow University’s Urban Big Data Centre (UBDC), in collaboration with the Centre for Research & Development in Lifelong Learning.

Margaret has long-standing research interests in youth studies and cross-cultural differences, and a particular focus is on “student voice” and young people’s views and visions of their future lifestyles.

She began with an overview of Melbourne, whose population of 4 million is being swelled by 2000 new arrivals every week. This growth, she explained, is pushing the urban fringe further and further out, and this movement is transforming Melbourne into a global city.

At the same time, Margaret pointed to dramatic changes in the cultural landscape, largely due to increased mobility and technological advances. These changes are presenting particular challenges to young people, many of whom are using travel and social media to create their own “social spaces”. This “pop-up” culture can include everything from websites to impromptu skateboard parks.

Margaret’s research has found that the lived experiences of young people growing up in new housing estates on the fringes of Melbourne have, until recently, been unexamined. Among her own findings:

  • Large houses with small backyards create ‘sedentary landscapes’ for children.
  • Youth mobility is diminished with cars increasingly used for children’s travel.
  • Transport issues, especially in outer suburbs of cities contribute to a loss of independence for young people.

She explained that her findings underline the importance of personal space and special places in the lives of young people.

Above all, Margaret stressed the importance of giving young people a voice – and a real voice, not a token voice. Only by asking young people for their views, she argues, can local and national government learn to encourage the creative, entrepreneurial youth counter-cultures now possible through increased mobility and technology.

Margaret’s wide-ranging and well-informed presentation offered plenty of food for thought, although she stressed that part of the researcher’s journey was to acknowledge that there are no clear solutions to the problems affecting society.


Follow us on Twitter to keep up-to-date with developments in public and social policy currently interesting our research team.

Digital technology in social work practice

Using social media in social work practice was the topic of conversation at a recent conference, held at the University of Stirling. With a delegate list including academics, researchers, practitioners and representatives from the public and private sectors the conversation topics were broad and wide ranging from how to use social media, what to avoid doing and how to integrate digital technologies and systems into everyday practice for social workers.

social media infographic photoPartnerships to deliver digital solutions

In March last year we told you about the partnership between a local authority and Idox who teamed up to deliver a digital case management tool to support the council social workers in their day to day practice. The ideas that were promoted during the conference not only emphasises the innovative nature of that partnership when it was developed, but also the continuing possibilities to pursue innovative digital solutions within local government to allow Idox to continue deliver efficient and positive outcomes for service users.

Avoiding social media pitfalls

Aside from poor infrastructure, like a lack of wifi, and seemingly impenetrable work computer firewalls, both of which came up regularly in discussions, one of the main reasons social workers did not use social media was fear, uncertainty and worry of the repercussions should something be posted or liked which was deemed inappropriate.

Rachel Wardell, the director of Services at Warwickshire council gave a talk on utilising Twitter in an appropriate way and outlined the “7 stages of Twitter” for new and advanced users. She suggested that Twitter was actually a great way for social workers, teams and managers to make connections and share best practice across the profession. She discussed how links initially forged on twitter by a follow or the sharing of an article developed into partnerships and trips to visit areas of best practice to observe and learn from fellow professionals.picjumbo.com_HNCK1814

However for many social workers, and their management teams, social media use can still be problematic, with the BBC reporting earlier in the year that there had been a rise in the number of council workers being punished for misconduct relating to social media. For social work teams the pressures and implications are even more significant. In discussion with Birmingham University’s Dr Tarsem Singh Cooner some of the delegates highlighted examples of colleagues who had been accused of bringing the profession into disrepute and some extreme instances where they had been removed from cases at the request of service users who had seen a post on their social media account which was not secured with privacy settings.

While most were keen to stress that these were individual mistakes and misjudgements there was still anxiety about the increasingly blurred boundaries between public and private, the importance of relationship building and personal experience for social workers interacting with service users, but the necessity to remain professional. The phrase ‘social workers are human too’ was used regularly by those advocating the use of social media and that councils should use a level of common sense and discretion when dealing with incidents involving staff and social media. However, the general consensus appeared to be that social media should be treated with caution:

  • use a separate work and personal account
  • use an alias
  • employ maximum privacy settings
  • don’t post anything that could potentially bring the profession or your conduct into disrepute
An example (from my own Twitter) of how Twitter can be used to document conferences and interact with professionals

An example (from my own Twitter) of how Twitter can be used to document conferences and interact with professionals

Making social work ‘appier

One of the big developments which has become increasingly popular as a tool to engage social work in digital technology is the creation of apps. Many of the conference discussions were on the benefits of using an app, how they can be utilised fully in their roles as training tools and information providers or how they can be used to encourage participation and communication in aspects such as feedback.

Anne Campbell from Queens University Belfast discussed the development of a series of information-based apps which focused on child development. Another app covered the knowledge of social workers and social care teams of drug and alcohol in substance misuse cases, including symptoms, street names for abused substances and the studies which use examples of substance misuse in social work and adult and child protection cases. She discussed the importance of using practitioners and service users to develop the app, to ensure it was fit for purpose and easy to use. She also highlighted the potential for her apps, which currently operate in a Northern Irish context, to be developed and diversified to account for differences in policy in Scotland, the Republic of Ireland and England and Wales.

Screenshot images of the apps

Screenshot images of the apps

There is a potential for software development in the future which would see more secure data files more easily accessible via personalised secure apps and document drop apps, which could be shared across a number of sectors, including health, social care and education. Delivering the digital infrastructure platforms to develop and successfully run integrated systems and sharing platforms such as these would require huge investment from local authorities, and would potentially provide the opportunity to work in conjunction with specialists, such as Idox, to develop software which is supportive, flexible and fit for purpose.

Apps

Iphone apps. Image by Daniel Go via Creative Commons

Using social media to create connections

The final part of the afternoon was characterised by case study style discussions, where speakers presented their own experiences, both positive and negative of using social media and stressed the importance of social media as a way to create connections. The connections spoken about included connections between practitioners, to create a more extensive community of best practice within the social work profession, connections between service users and social workers, many of whom feel more comfortable communicating via social media, and finally creating connections between service users to help them provide support to each other. This was something specifically highlighted by the team from Lothian Villas in East Lothian.

Lothian Villas have been using a closed, invite only Facebook group as a forum to interact with young people staying with them during a period in residential care. Members can post on the page, while others respond giving advice and reminiscing, much like a traditional family would do. That, according to Ewan McKay, is vital for allowing children who have come from care to build and maintain relationships and have happy memories of their childhood which can go on to shape how they behave as adults in the future. They can also then pass their memories and advice onto the children who are coming through the system after them.

Other groups spoke about the use of document sharing sites, digital presentation sites and networking sites like LinkedIn to create and document continuing professional development (CPD), a core part of social workers’ continuing improvement and the maintenance of standards.

 

The conference highlighted the massive steps forward which have been taken and the desire for drive and innovation in digital infrastructure to take public services, and their delivery onto digital platforms. This would allow for greater connectivity between professions such as social work and other service providers in health and education resulting in more efficient services, producing better outcomes for service users. Using digital platforms well, including apps, sharing websites and personal social networking sites such as Twitter will allow practitioners and local authorities to ‘join up’ services to promote more holistic, person-centred care at a local level while allowing professionals to build a network of best practice and document their own CPD. Digital media in social work practice could potentially be a key enabler in improving practice and generating positive outcomes for service users.


Our popular Ask-a-Researcher enquiry service is one aspect of the Idox Information Service, which we provide to members in organisations across the UK to keep them informed on the latest research and evidence on public and social policy issues. To find out more on how to become a member, get in touch.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

The next big thing in management and organisational development … why your organisation should be considering reverse mentoring

A jigsaw of a handshake being completed ny two hands.

Think of the modern workplace and a number of features may spring to mind: technological innovations, flexible and remote working, to name a few. However, a more social factor is also at play: the multigenerational workforce. For the first time in history, it is now feasible that a workforce could comprise employees from four different generations, i.e. the World War II Generation (born 1929-1945), Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), Generation X (born 1965-1979) and Generation Y/Millennials (born after 1980).

The characteristics of a generation

In 2012, Ashridge Business School identified that Generation Y (Gen Y) has grown up in an environment that is very different to previous generations. Additionally, their survey of managers from around the world found that Gen Y:

  • comes to the workplace with different skills;
  • is motivated by different things;
  • thinks differently about learning and development; and
  • approaches work relationships differently.

As noted by Steve Regus, writing for HR magazine in 2012, Gen Y also take a less hierarchical attitude towards work, and place a high importance on mentoring and feedback. The trick, according to Regus, is for organisations to utilise the strengths of this diverse workforce to their advantage, by creating opportunities to learn from each other.

The technological benefits of reversing

One way that some organisations have approached this is through reverse mentoring. Rather than following the usual path of older, more senior employees being assigned a newer colleague to mentor, reverse mentoring (unsurprisingly) sees younger or newer employees sharing their knowledge with company stalwarts. An early champion of this strategy in the 90s was Jack Welch, then CEO of General Electric. Welch recognised the importance of capitalising on the skills of the company’s younger employees, and instigated an initiative that saw older employees learn how to use Netscape. Today, reverse mentoring is commonplace in global companies including Microsoft and Cisco.

Technology is an area in which reverse mentoring is particularly valuable. Having grown up in an age of constant technological change and development, Gen Y are ideally placed to offer insight into how technological innovation can benefit an organisation and its processes. Crucially, technological innovation has also opened up the possibility of working more flexibly, something that is highly valued by Gen Y employees. Senior employees who have taken part in reverse mentoring programmes have also highlighted gaining an insight into the potential benefits of flexible working as one of the positive outcomes of developing a mentoring relationship with a younger employee. Thus, opening up this dialogue between generations can potentially diffuse conflict between the traditional 9-5 generations and the less hierarchical Gen Y.

A two-way street

In practice, reverse mentoring has been found to be less ‘teaching an old dog new tricks’ and more of an exchange of information and experience. At General Electric, one of the most basic benefits for the young mentors was simply the ability to gain contacts in the upper echelons of the company. The mutual benefits of the relationship can also be seen in terms of the insight it offers each party. The older participant gains in terms of gaining new perspectives on the company’s industry, and the thinking of its workforce, while the younger gains a better understanding of the company’s strategies and objectives, and becomes better placed to recommend actions or technologies that may support these.

Reverse mentoring – how to do it

In 2013, Boston College’s Sloan Center on Aging and Work published an evaluation of the implementation of a reverse mentoring initiative by The Hartford, a leading US insurance company. The company’s CEO had identified a need for the company to become more confident in its use of digital technologies, particularly social media, and recognised that its younger employees were best placed to drive this forward. Following a successful initial pilot that went onto become a national initiative within the company, The Hartford highlighted the following factors as crucial to the success of any reverse mentoring programme:

  • the creation of a project timeline;
  • identifying the business objectives – link the reverse mentoring programme to what the business is trying to achieve as far as possible;
  • ensure that mentors are fully informed of what mentees are expecting to get out of the exchange;
  • making sure the initiative has clear agendas and timelines;
  • using the mentor role as a way of keeping younger employees motivated; and
  • encourage both mentors and mentees to be open to the relationship and gaining new knowledge, and to respect that each other approaches learning differently.

The final point is echoed by the majority of companies who have used reverse mentoring within their organisation. Initially, Cisco had issues around more senior employees adapting to younger employees’ more informal way of working. As they, and other reverse mentoring adoptees have discovered, though, the key is commitment to the programme, in recognition of the value it can bring to the business.


Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in policy and practice are interesting our research team.

Further reading: if you liked this blog post, you might also want to read Heather Cameron’s post on how entrepreneurship drives growth in the UK.

Higher education – widening access or widening inequality?

college graduates groupBy Heather Cameron

While the government maintains its commitment to widening participation to higher education, newly published government statistics suggest that the gap between private and state pupils is actually widening.

Widening gap

The statistics show that 85% of school-leavers from English private schools who turned 19 in 2012-13 were in higher education, compared to 66% of students from state schools – a gap of 19 percentage points, which is six points wider than it was in 2008-09.

A new report from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has similarly highlighted the gap between the most and least advantaged groups.

Professor of international higher education at the UCL Institute of Education, Simon Marginson, recently argued that equality of opportunity in higher education is “further off than ever”, despite participation rates around the world being at a record high. Marginson suggests that universities should not be left responsible for social mobility as other factors are also at play.

Indeed, a new report from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission indicates that the wealthiest families are using their wealth and status to ‘hoard opportunities’ for their children with less academic ability. It argued that this is creating a ‘glass floor’, protecting some children from downward social mobility.

Budget impact

With the recent budget reforms, it would seem that addressing the inequality issue will be far from easy.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), the loss of maintenance grants, which are to be replaced with loans, will increase the average debt incurred for the poorest 40% of students to over £50,000. And debt will be highest among those from the lowest-income families.

If given the go ahead, the decision to freeze the repayment threshold for student loans at £21,000 is estimated to increase loan repayments for graduates, hitting middle-income graduates hardest.

In addition to this, the proposal to allow ‘high teaching quality’ institutions to raise tuition fees is predicted to increase the cost to government of teaching undergraduates as not all loans are estimated to be repaid in full.

This could also impact on students from poorer backgrounds applying to such institutions. While it has been acknowledged that the increase in fees in 2012 didn’t result in a reduction in participation among students from poorer backgrounds, it does seem to have had an impact on the choices these students make.

The IFS suggests that if the proposed changes in the budget are all introduced, the likelihood of a negative impact on higher education participation is stronger, while there will be little improvement in government finances in the long-term.

So what can be done?

There are examples of good practice across schools, colleges and universities where they have engaged in activities designed to raise aspirations and encourage young people from disadvantaged areas to access higher education. Such activities include outreach work, early intervention, quality careers advice, summer schools and focused mentoring.

Indeed, intergenerational mentoring has recently been highlighted as beneficial for raising attainment among socially disadvantaged young people and improving their access to higher education.

A mentoring project conducted in Scotland aimed to support S5 and S6 pupils taking their highers and considering going on to higher education. The programme aimed to help young people in their studies, help them navigate the higher education landscape, support them through the application process and discuss opportunities open to them. The results indicate that this model of mentoring presents an affordable opportunity for intervening to support widening access to higher education.

However, as HEFCE has indicated, despite isolated work in individual institutions that is undoubtedly having a positive impact, it is fragmented and not well evidenced.

HEFCE therefore recommends a joined up sector wide response to ensure that all students can truly fulfil their potential regardless of their background.


Idox supports universities and students in their bid for funding via a dedicated suite of funding solutions including GRANTfinder 4 Education and Open 4 Learning. For further information, please contact our Grants team here.

Further reading

Abolition of maintenance grants in England from 2016/17 (House of Commons Library briefing no 07258) (2015, House of Commons Library)

College-based degrees ‘reflect inequality’, IN Times Educational Supplement, No 5154 10 Jul 2015

Widening participation to higher education of under-represented groups in Scotland: the challenges of using performance indicators (Working paper 1) (2014, Economic and Social Research Council)

Progress made by high-attaining children from disadvantaged backgrounds (2014, Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission)

Breaking the cycle of disadvantage: early childhood interventions and progression to higher education in Europe (2014, RAND Europe)

Limited access (widening university access), IN Holyrood, No 316 14 Apr 2014, pp50-51

School and college-level strategies to raise aspirations of high-achieving disadvantaged pupils to pursue higher education investigation (Research report no 296) (2014, Department for Education)

*Some resources may only be available to members of the Idox Information Service

What’s preventing health and social care from going digital?

Two women using a tablet computer.

Image by Innovate 360. Licensed for reuse under Creative Commons.

By Steven McGinty

In the first of two articles focusing on technology in health and social care, I will be looking at some of the barriers organisations face in adopting digital technologies. Financial pressures such as the reduction in public spending, as well as an ageing society, mean that health and social care will be expected to meet greater levels of demand with fewer resources.

The UK Government believes that the implementation of technology is the solution to helping the health and social care system become more efficient and more effective at delivering patient care. However, before health and social care can reap the benefits of technology, a number of barriers have to be broken down.

Information sharing challenges

Integration has been a main focus of health and social care in England, as well as the devolved administrations. If integration is to work successfully, different organisations must be able to share data securely. At the moment, data is recorded in a variety of ways across a number of different IT systems. We also have a situation where the main method for sharing data securely in local authorities, the Public Services Network (PSN), is not fully integrated with either the NHS in Scotland or England. Eddie Copeland, of the Policy Exchange, suggests that full integration of the NHS with the PSN should be seen as a priority.

Financial costs

The financial costs of rolling out new technology within an organisation can be significant. These costs can include the procurement of hardware and software, internet connections, and the training of staff. For organisations which are undergoing major budgets cuts, it may seem very difficult to justify the investment in technologies, even if there is the potential for savings in the future.

Management issues

The importance of technology in organisations can be underestimated by decision-makers. For example, according to Martin Ferguson, Director of the Society of IT Management (Socitm), the ICT challenges involved in introducing the new Care Act in England are not being given enough priority. He highlights that if organisations are unable to share information safely by April 2015, they risk failing to comply with new reporting regulations.

Local authorities can also have policies that restrict the use of technology. A recent Skills for Care report into the digital capabilities of social care found that local authorities are still wary of certain technologies, including cloud based systems, which can offer low-cost solutions, and social media, which can lead to savings for local authorities if used correctly.

The health and social care workforce

The Skills for Care report highlights that over 95% of staff feel they are confident in basic online skills. However less than a quarter of managers believe that they have staff with enough skills to make use of digital technology. This mismatch means that managers may be hesitant to introduce new technologies over fears that staff may have difficulties in using the technology, as well as the costs associated with staff training.

There is also a suggestion that social care staff may be resistant to the introduction of new technologies, due to concerns that introducing technology may over-complicate things and move the focus away from the patient. As we noted in a recent article on digital services within government, a key part of introducing any new technology is changing the mindset of staff and having effective leadership in place to champion it.

These are just some of the challenges associated with introducing digital technologies into health and social care. In a future article, we will look more at how technologies can be used within health and social care and the benefits they can bring to organisations. We also look at a case study of an innovative technology partnership between Calderdale Council and Idox, which is addressing the shared services agenda in social care.


Further reading:

 

Celebrating a different kind of library: the Idox Information Service

Number 95

Exterior of the Idox Information Service office, an art deco building in Glasgow

by Laura Dobie

It’s National Libraries Day this Saturday, and events are being held up and down the country to celebrate libraries and their contribution to communities. When people think of libraries, it tends to be public libraries which spring to mind and rows of bookshelves. However, the library sector is diverse.  Many librarians and information professionals work in different types of organisations, with different kinds of service users.

With libraries taking centre stage over the course of this weekend, we wanted to showcase our own specialist library service and the skills of our library staff.

Who we are

The Idox Information Service is a membership library service, which was established over thirty years ago under its earlier name of the Planning Exchange. At the outset the emphasis was on the provision of resources to support professionals working in planning and the built environment, but we’ve expanded our subject coverage over the years to cover the whole spectrum of public sector information.

Our members include policy makers and practitioners from organisations including local authorities, central government, universities, think tanks, consultancies and charities. They work in challenging environments and often need evidence to inform service delivery or decision-making.

Our work

Our research officers are all qualified librarians, and many are chartered members of CILIP. This picture shows the range of activities last year:

2014 statsGrey literature is a particular strength of our collection. We spend a lot of time sourcing documents such as technical reports from government agencies, and research reports produced by think tanks, university departments, charities and consultancies which are often overlooked by other databases. Recent research has highlighted the value of grey literature for public policy and practice.

Although we may work in a specialist sector, many of our activities will be familiar from other libraries. We do our own abstracting and cataloguing, and current awareness services are a big part of what we do.

We also write our own research briefings for members on different topics, with more detailed analysis of research and policy developments, and including case studies and good practice. Some of these briefings are publicly available on our publications page.

The interest from members in using our Ask a Researcher service has been increasing, due to the time pressures and other challenges that people face in sourcing and reviewing information. A recent example looking at the links between employee wellbeing and productivity is on our website. Members regularly comment on the usefulness of the results, and it’s satisfying to be able to make a direct contribution to their work in this way.

Keeping it personal

While there has been an increasing trend towards self-service in libraries, and our online database allows our members to search for and access resources themselves, there is a strong personal element to our work.

Our members know that we’re always available at the end of the phone or via email to provide them with dedicated support when they need it. It’s important to us that we provide a quality service which keeps pace with the changing needs and expectations of a varied membership base.

Hopefully this article has provided some insight into a different kind of library, and library and information work, and the way in which we support professionals across a variety of fields. More information about the service can be found here.


Laura Dobie is a Research Officer at the Idox Information Service and a chartered librarian. She writes regular blog articles and research briefings for the service, and tweets for @IdoxInfoService

Knowledge insider… a Q&A with Sarah Jennings

sarah jenningsWelcome to the second of our blog series in the run up to our Conference, looking at how we invest in knowledge, this time with Sarah Jennings, Director of Digital and Community Engagement at CapacityGrid. She’s responsible for the Knowledge Hub, an online space for cross-sector collaboration focused on sharing good practice, ideas generation and supporting public sector transformation.

Sarah, what led you to a role promoting and improving knowledge development?  

I started my working career as a specialist librarian. Whilst working at the Royal Society an internal opportunity came up to manage the websites. This was digital in its infancy before the term existed, first generation activity in digital! However it seemed obvious that knowledge and information sharing would be key components.

After that I moved into the education sector, managing the online work at the previous incarnation of SSAT (The Schools Network) when it had responsibility for delivery of the specialist schools and academies remits for government. We specialised in providing support and training in teaching and learning; curriculum; networking and leadership development. This is where I first started to see the real benefits of technology as an enabler for peer-to-peer sharing of knowledge, case studies and best practice across networks of teachers.

Following a spell in regional government, I moved to the Local Government Association. Here I was responsible for the digital estate, including developing our communities of practice. However, people and sectors were still siloed and not sharing to best effect. So the launch of its successor, the Knowledge Hub, was an attempt to tackle this through building networks of people that weren’t necessarily around a theme and made use of emerging social media tools and techniques. I didn’t set off to do this and don’t really see myself as a knowledge manager. I’m more a convener of people. I enjoy connecting people up, facilitating conversations and getting people working together to improve things. I like herding cats; and seem to be quite good at it!

What do you think the main benefits of developing your knowledge are?

Keeping up to date with what is going on, the areas I work in, the sector I work in – I’m the sort of person who likes to devour knowledge.

I enjoy building my own network. I’m always surprised how often I look up someone I met or worked with a while ago and we do something amazing. In most areas I see myself as having a broad-based knowledge, rather than depth, however I do consider I have a reasonable knowledge where digital is concerned, having lived and breathed it for nearly 15 years in one form or another.

I think being multi-disciplinary in today’s world is a useful thing. Jobs are very different now. It’s incredible to think that developments in the last 100 years mean that some process driven professional roles have and will continue to disappear and be replaced by machines. Being multi-disciplinary is the key; a broad knowledge and skill-set means you can work across different roles within the workforce and provide more flexibility to organisational structures.

When people are talking to you about evidence, research or knowledge, what do they most frequently raise as issues?

Often, it’s “there is so much”: how do they navigate it? How do they find it? How do they know whether it’s any good? Even in Knowledge Hub, people need support and help finding what they need and this is the role of our community managers

I take advantage of my information management background, to help them to move through it, navigate. To do this well I have to recognise that everyone’s different – human nature, learning styles and decision making processes. I have to ensure Knowledge Hub caters for this diversity, whether people want formal learning with docs or forums for collaboration.

Big Data is often raised as an issue, knowledge about it, what to do with it and how to use it. Again, there’s too much and how do we know what’s worth using either for evidence or to predict future services?

But the biggest issue people face is “who are the experts?” How do you know who they are and who do you trust? The benefit of collaboration is it’s good for getting a range of information, opinions and expertise and experts, emerge from this process.

What are the hard to spot mistakes when it comes to developing your knowledge, which you really need to avoid?

Social media: your view of the world can be limited by the people you are following. Try not to (always) follow like-minded people because you get a narrow vision and view of the world. It’s important to step out of your area, look at the way people are doing things elsewhere.

Decision making: if I’m making a decision around digital, for example, I tend to talk to other digital people. Again, this can reinforce a stereotype and provide a narrow view.  It’s important to go beyond that, step outside your comfort zone, seek alternative views and break out of the silo. More often than not, we think about how we do something and not always the impact. With Knowledge Hub we are trying to introduce serendipity, introducing people to new groups and opportunities they may not have thought of, or come across, to enable this broadening to happen.

You need to be open minded, like a 360 review; get feedback, challenge your own assumptions. Everyone needs to take a break from the norm and look around them, see if what you are doing has already been tried and tested elsewhere, and you learn from.

This reflective approach is growing and it’s partly because the gender balance is improving, especially in digital, which is challenging the status quo and needs different (perhaps more?) skills. There are different ways of doing things, the best ‘managers’ out there are employing a whole range of different techniques. It’s no longer seen to be passive to have a mentoring approach, admit you don’t have all the answers and seeking help from others – even at the top!

Cass Business School, carried out research with retiring leaders from the baby boom era, asking them what they thought the next generation of leadership would need to look like. The majority said an emotional intelligence approach would be key.

Knowledge is fine but as a concept is no use unless you do something with it. We need to recognise talent and early on. Ideas and innovation can come from anywhere within an organisation. We simply need to know how to unlock it.

How do you think people will be doing evidence, research and knowledge development in 5 years’ time?

Data – It’s at the centre of everything; we are struggling with so much data, is it relevant, how do we use it?

There seems to be a couple of schools of thought on this, do we use it to learn lessons from the past or to predict what the needs are, more demand management? I think it’s a mix of both.  In terms of politics, services and understanding the world around us, this will become easier, the more data and information becomes available and we learn how to interpret it. Things like the “Internet of Things” are both exciting and daunting. To properly take advantage of these opportunities, we will need to get better at how we use data.

Skills – we will need to be cross disciplinary; able to pick up things; be collaborative; have people skills; ask the right questions; do creative analysis; then to question and assimilate what we learn. It’s not one person it’s a team, as it needs more than one person to innovate and take ideas to delivery.

As an individual you can be both specialist and cross disciplinary. It makes you valuable as a resource asset. People with specialist knowledge and the ability to look across multiple areas, will be the ones who succeed going forward, together with sufficient emotional intelligence to exhibit different decision making and leadership styles suited to the circumstance.

If you had a list of ‘best-kept secrets’ about research, evidence and knowledge you would recommend, what would you include and why?

Collaboration – understanding where the places are to go to, the experts and knowledge – people who don’t share will be left behind.

  • Remember to ask the awkward questions
  • Don’t confine where you go for answers

Looking at those people who are getting at the forefront of research, they are doing this now.

For my own expert knowledge:

The GDS especially for implementing good standards and principles, because they’ve invested time, money and effort and there’s no point in reinventing the wheel. For example design principles; website usability; transactions; or user journeys. Their development code is all shared on GitHub, and it’s now being taken up by other countries. Mike Bracken spoke at Innovate2014 about reusing services on a global level, the whole market out there gathering info and feedback on code and improving it. We are at a crossroads, for example the public sector is starting to dictate how a service works, changing the relationship and dynamics between suppliers and buyers to one based on demand, flexibility and co-creation.

Knowledge should be about improvement, where producers respond to demand and how a service needs to be delivered to most effect. The Social Value Act has had an effect on this. The opening up of public assets means IPR is being challenged and how people get recompensed for supplying a service. At the centre of supply and demand there is still knowledge.  We just need to think differently about the wrapper and commercial model.


If you would like to hear Sarah speak about her work and how social approaches can help in knowledge sharing, sign up to our free conference in December here.

You can also read a Q&A with Clive Grace, Local Government Knowledge Navigator.