Never assume that the current way of working is the best way

13th June 2019

The Innovation Hub is a Frontline fellow-led community addressing a variety of challenges that face the social work profession. They’ve begun working on a variety of innovative projects – small to large-scale, local to national – that start to tackle these issues. David MacFarlane, the fellow who established the hub, tells us more about his inspiration for developing it and the potential impact it could have.

What inspired you to develop the Innovation Hub?

The Innovation Hub came out of my own journey with trying to create impactful change in my own work setting. Myself and a team of others set out to rewrite our old cumbersome case recording system – allowing workers more time to have face-face contact with families and spend less time at their desks. We experienced enormous success in this and began coaching others in some of the lessons we’d learnt along the way. Before long, other grassroots projects began to develop – giving us a platform to start building a community of innovators. Hence the Innovation Hub came to be!

The Innovation Hub represents a great way for fellows to draw on each other’s expertise. How has this helped you in your project?

With fellows now across the country, the Fellowship is in a unique position. Between us, we represent a significant number of local authorities (and other connected organisations) in England. This allows us to compare successes and failures across multiple settings, sharpening our ability to create tailor-made change relevant to our own place of work. You don’t find this in many other social work organisations!

How did you identify a problem or action for change?

I spent two weeks working as a student social worker! The need for change is evident all around us. Most often the solutions lie either in the people we serve, or in the lay knowledge of the workforce we’re a part of. Want to find a suitable solution to a problem in your work setting? Grab four or five others from your department and get planning. I guarantee someone in your organisation will have an answer.

“My project alone would have cost an estimated £1.1 million using external agencies. We did it almost for free.”

What is the potential impact that the innovation hub could have for children and families?

It’s massive. There are more than 27,000 children and families social workers in England. Imagine the amount of practice experience and untapped creativity within that! My project alone would have cost an estimated £1.1 million using external agencies. We did it almost for free. Imagine engaging every social worker in projects to ‘revamp’ their local authorities. For example: increased systemic working, software development, use of apps and web-based solutions, increased links with community and charity organisations, drama and dance workshops for children in care. These are just a few projects the Innovation Hub have been involved in. I genuinely believe we’re only scratching the surface.

How have you incorporated innovation into your social work role and what difference has it made to children and families in your local authority?

I never assume that the current ‘way of working’ is the best way of working. I’m always looking for tricks, tips, short-cuts through bureaucratic processes, all to make sure my children and families actually get to have quality time with me! It’s those one-to-one conversations, the walks to McDonald’s or road-trips back to the office. That’s where I’ve seen the greatest change produced.

What encouragement would you give to fellows thinking about innovating?

It’s easier than you think. Getting over the fear of being the one to ‘stick your head above the parapet’ is the greatest challenge. Once you’ve mustered some support around you, set out some ideas and give it a shot. You’ll be amazed at how you’ll get on!