Digital Care Communities

Community lies at the centre of care, providing energy and support to everyone involved. Care provides so many service users with a connection to their community, while for so many care providers their own communities provide them with a connection to their sanity! However, with current restrictions, it is difficult to connect with people in traditional ways. We sat down with Jonathan Cunningham MBE, registered care home manager and founder of the ‘Care Managers Inner Circle’ group on Facebook, to learn about the benefits of joining a digital care community.

A Changing Neighbourhood

COVID-19 has caused us to restructure a lot of the way our sector works. In order to adapt to the pandemic’s restrictions a lot of service providers have embraced digital options for administration. Digital processes have become more commonplace as they are used to help facilitate our professional transition to the current scenario. However, what about the ‘social’ side of being a care provider in such a stressful and demanding context? As with many challenges faced in our sector over the past few months some people were already working on a solution. 

“It was formed a few years ago,” Jonathan says, “It was really just to find some sort of fellow support network. That’s how it started. It just got sort of bigger and bigger.”

Community over Commerce

Facebook groups are nothing new. There are thousands across the website, dozens of which relate to social care. However, the spirit and focus of groups like the Inner Circle aren’t business orientated. Instead, they are all about the people. 

“People just like the warmth of it,” Jonathan explains. “No one claims to be an expert there. It’s quite a safe place for people to ask any questions and be supportive. There’s no selling or promoting in there so people feel like it’s a good place to be.”

That is a crucial difference: by establishing an entry process, Jonathan is able to preserve the integrity of the group. 

“The difference with the other groups, and I’m a member of many of them, is that there are lots of recruitment companies and lots of sales in there,” Jonathan says. “I’m not being critical about that – that’s the choice of that group. But we were quite strict on that. It’s a pure environment where the only way you can be in is if you are a registered manager. You can be an executive in a trust, that’s fine, you can be CQC or involved with care through the Local Authority – that’s equally fine. The good thing is there are 2,700 pre-vetted care managers there who are just there to support each other.”

Nights, Camera, Action

The absence of private commercial interests provides members with the chance to draw upon the experiences of other members. This communal well of knowledge available in a digital care community helps guide care providers through their individual challenges. 

Every Monday to Thursday we do a live chat,” Jonathan says. “That goes out live at eight. Normally for 20 minutes. The exception to that is Thursday. On Thursday night we do a zoom which goes out for an hour. That’s opened up to people who are not in the Inner Circle so they can actually see what we do and be part of it for an evening. So they can see the sort of banter and the camaraderie and see how it runs.”

Expert Opinions 

Digital care communities are an amazing potential resource for care providers. Their scope is limited only by the ambitions of those participating in them. Through conversation and debate members are able to better understand the sector in which they operate. And as a result, they can better prepare for what’s to come. One of the best things about them is the variety of ideas and opinions they can expose you to from your kitchen chair. 

“We’ve got lots of different people in the group.” Jonathan details, “We have discussed major change in the sector. We did one a few weeks ago which was on transformational change:  how to go about it and how do you see innovation. That was an incredible session, we talked about how to really try and think outside of the box. Where you really are untying the emotional and psychological thinking shackles.”

Sharing ideas with colleagues is a great professional opportunity. However, these groups can also offer the opportunity to present hitherto unknown perspectives.

“We brought in learning from a military cell which was set up in London three years ago. They were brought in to show us a new methodology for innovative thinking. Where the next ten major game-changing technologies are coming from. So that was fascinating. All the [live videos] we do are recorded. We have a library of those [talks] for our members to play back.”

Gaining Power

The initial goal of the group was to find a place for people with similar experiences and roles in the sector to communicate. However, the potential power of such a collective cannot be ignored. Bargaining positions are always strengthened by size, and a digital care community like the Inner Circle can become quite influential.

“Each year we get an invite to hold our annual conference at the Care & Dementia show,” says Jonathan. “The figures from last year are really good, there were over 500 new members who hadn’t been to a show before. So we have our own unique link. We get 5 speaker slots across the day and we fill these with speakers who we think would benefit the inner circle.

“For example, one of the things we’re particularly driven on is care technology and technological developments in social care. The advantages of that and how to go about implementing electronic care planning in a care setting. That’s a really popular one because they’re still a lot of homes that are still paper-based. So we try to cover to get more information about things like that for the group.”

Plans for Growth

For Jonathan growing the Inner Circle has been an exhilarating experience. A digital care community that he looks forward to developing alongside the other members in the future.

“I’d love [the group] to be a major influencer in social care,” Jonathan says, “It does hold sway because it is pure. There isn’t an agenda behind it, it isn’t sponsored by x or y – it is a genuine group that becomes a lobbying body in its right. The like of Care England or National Care Forum – all these organisations that take note. If there was a collective behind the inner circle then it’s worth having a listen to them. 

“I am a massive fan of collaboration, it’s the only way to go in the world as human beings. You can only do things greater than yourself through collaboration. It’s our message, it’s what we’re about. You can’t collaborate with enough people. And equally you have to remember everyone’s got an agenda. That’s life, everyone has their own aims and goals and organisations have their own aims and goals. That’s only right and proper. If this can be done in a way that also contributes towards another organisation’s goals that’s great, you end with a win-win. That’s business, that’s life.” 

If you work in social care and would like to learn more about the Inner Circle and look into joining you can find them here.

Just have your battle knickers ready, it’s a good thing…we’re almost certain.