A meeting to build a movement

26 October 2018

Winston Morson & Beverley Barnett-Jones MBE

At a recent event in London, social work practitioners got together to discuss how the What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care might help foster a culture of evidence-informed practice and policy. Here, two delegates share their thoughts on the meeting.

Winston Morson

I write this after attending an event in London to explore how the new What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care could support evidence-informed practice in children’s social care. I am on my own journey, moving now into independent social work and have been asked by the programme team to write this blog.

At the event, we shared ideas about what’s important when considering research and how this can be shared with practitioners to improve the lives of children and families. We also reflected on why some ways of working gain more traction than others, how supervision can help or hinder and this video which is a great illustration of the value of leadership when creating a movement.

Afterwards, I reflected further on the followers. Not necessarily those first followers, such as those in the video. They are usually the people queuing overnight for the latest piece of tech. I mean the majority of consumers who wait until the bugs have been worked out before investing, which is the same as the average social worker who doesn’t jump on every new practice initiative.

What those who attended the event had in common was their level of active engagement with the issues at hand. Ultimately though, if What Works is going to… um, work, then it’s success will depend on the impact on the average frontline worker who doesn’t attend such events or keep up to date with research.

One of the biggest issues for social workers is time. A recent survey by the British Association of Social Workers cited that frontline practitioners were working on average 45 hours a week. Hardly the best foundation to encourage reflection on research evidence.

The event included extensive use of Post-it notes. These were invented by a 3M employee via a process known as bootlegging. This allows workers time to develop their own pet projects during work hours, using the company’s resources as they wish. Frontline practitioners having their own opportunity to create pet projects will be the point when What Works can be considered a resounding success.

Beverley Barnett-Jones MBE

As a specialist project lead for the Family Drug Alcohol Court working with Walsall MBC and Black Country partners, I was asked by Walsall Right for Children Transformation Lead to attend the What Works Centre’s ‘Building a movement’ workshop. I had a sense that the work by the Centre was revealing an interesting set of questions and reflections for practitioners about our rather complex stances and relationship with evidence as underpinning our practice.

I have to confess I was not sure what the afternoon was going to involve. However, in two minutes I knew it was going to be a good session, meeting old and new colleagues from Jersey, Leeds, Bracknell Forest, Camden and even Islington. The room was already a community of practice and we hadn’t even started the revolution yet! Our table was buzzing; we even got the odd counselling session in – brief intervention works! Across the room critically engaging and respectful talk about the What Works Agenda was occurring.

Using the Social Change Agency’s ‘The Movement Building Canvas’ we engaged directly with the statement that social workers have to take responsibility for how evidence is used to underpin what we do (with the broadest definition that the centre applies, including learning about practice from practice and experts by experience).

We should aim for an organic movement rooted in the everyday capabilities children’s social workers possess, and which is led by children’s social workers, working with others who understand what works. We concluded our discussions with agreement on the need to develop a values framework as first port for growing our movement. As a person with a history of being a social organiser, I end by saying that the afternoon spoke truth to power; we can really do this if we grasp it.