Jul 21

Defining digital: what exactly do we mean when we talk about digital in social care?

Posted: 26 July 2021

By Diane Buddery, Programme Head, Digital Sector.

We’ve all experienced it; a conversation where those around you are using phrases which you think you know the meaning of, but aren’t quite 100% sure. Do they mean what I mean? Do they actually mean other things that I don’t know anything about? Shall I ask or just keep quiet and nod?

This can be particularly true when it comes to digital and technology talk.

Common understanding and language is built up through time and familiarity. Technology is a fairly new element to care, meaning there’s been relatively little time or experiences from which to build a shared vocabulary. After all, how many of us knew what ‘doing a Zoom’ meant a year and a half ago?

Beyond Zoom, we know that digital technology is more important than ever, and that the use of digital in a variety of different ways has increased in social care since COVID-19 changed the landscape we’re working in.

Digital innovations bring a huge range of benefits for care providers, the social care workforce, and the people you support. But it’s important that we make discussion around digital as easy to understand as possible.

Recognition of this was at the heart of our digital discovery work late last year. We asked leaders and staff: 

  • what do you understand digital working to mean?
  • what do you think digital skills are?
  • what and who do you think digital leaders are?

Using these insights and building on them from a wide-ranging evidence review undertaken from our work with Ipsos Mori and IPC Oxford Brookes on the NHSX commissioned Digital Skills Review, we’ve set out what we mean by these phrases.

We’ve broken down some of these key terms below to give them more real-life context.

What does ‘digital’ actually mean?

When it comes to an adult social care learning and development setting, the use of the term ‘digital’ essentially means using technology to support the secure and effective delivery of services across the care sector and by training providers.

This can relate to a range of different technology and computer systems from those you may use on a regular basis such as the internet and social media, digital care applications, consumer technology like Alexa, to those you may be less familiar with such as machine learning, cybersecurity programs, and artificial intelligence.

When we discuss digital in social care, we’re looking at how these types of technology are and can be used in social care settings to support and improve the care being provided, and the way in which the workforce learns and operates.

What are digital skills in social care?

Enabling digital skills is something that we’re keen to support the social care workforce with – but what do we really mean by ‘digital skills’? This essentially refers to the particular abilities in using technology to support the safe and effective delivery of care services or fulfil other aspects of your role. Digital skills could include a range of abilities such as:

  • using the internet and social media
  • conducting video calls
  • using software applications
  • safely handling and communicating electronic information
  • connecting to others through video calls and other online services
  • understanding the ethical aspects associated with introducing and using digital technology.

It’s important to support staff in developing their digital skills, as the more digital skills an individual has will increase the different ways in which they’ll be able to use technology within their role.

What are digital capabilities?

When talking about ‘digital capabilities’ in social care we’re referring to the combination of a range of learnt digital skills along with the behaviours, confidence, and motivation to apply these skills in a social care context to achieve a desired outcome.

Staff with a broader range of digital capabilities will be more able to adopt and use technology to support effective delivery of care services by their organisation, increase options for learning and development, better manage their internal business processes and make informed decisions.

What is digital leadership?

Digital leadership is a core element in driving forward the use of digital in social care. When we talk about ‘digital leadership’ we’re talking about someone taking a leadership position within their organisation where they’re charged with driving forward and developing the use of technology in the organisation and the digital skills of their team, with a goal of better delivering their care services, as well as their wider business and management activities. 

A digital leader could be someone with a formal leadership role, or it could be someone who leads in this area without having a formally designated leadership role.

Digital leaders in social care are creative, innovative people with strong networking and collaboration skills, who can persuade, mobilise and lead social care staff and others to share their vision and lead the journey to realising the wider use and benefits of digital technology.

What is digital maturity?

Digital maturity is really a measure, which relates to how capable and sophisticated an organisation is in their adoption and use of technology. This can include the culture of innovation within the organisation as well as the workforce’s digital skills.

For example, an organisation who uses technology on a daily basis to provide their day-to-day services – potentially even working paper free, who has a well-built and informative website which showcases their offering, and who has access to a wide range of data and media, and strict processes in place to protect the confidentiality of their digital data may be said to have higher digital maturity.

‘Digital readiness’ is a key component behind an organisation’s digital maturity – this means the degree to which staff can plan and deploy the use of technology in the delivery of care services.

You can assess your organisation’s digital maturity using an online self-assessment tool, such as the Digital Readiness Tool.

What does data protection mean?

‘Data protection’ is about keeping all the information and data you have stored about your organisation, your workforce, and the people you support confidential. Data protection is defined as the legal control over access to and use of data stored in computers and put into practice it means organisations have a responsibility to introduce a range of processes to control and protect their data.

Data protection is particularly crucial in social care due to the sensitive nature of data stored about those you support. For more understanding on what data protection covers, have a read over the Data Protection Act.

What is cybersecurity?

There can be confusion between data protection and cybersecurity, as both relate to practices of staying safe online.

Cybersecurity refers to protection against any criminal or unauthorised use of electronic data held by an organisation, such as someone hacking into your data on your computer system. Like data protection, cybersecurity means that organisations have a responsibility to introduce processes to keep your electronic data safe against cyber attacks.

You can check you’re meeting data security guidelines by completing the Data Security Protection Toolkit (DSPT). The DSPT is an online self-assessment which sets standards and gives care providers guidance on what you need to do to keep your information safe and protect yourself from a data breach across both your paper and digital records and allows you to evaluate and improve your data security processes.

At Skills for Care, we’re champions for supporting a digitally-skilled social care workforce and we provide a range of resources and information to help support social care organisations in their digital learnings and use of technology.

Getting us all on the same page is a good start to any meaningful conversation. We hope that these definitions will help us as we move forward with our work to support the sector with their digital skills and digital leadership. Let us know what you think by contacting us at digital@skillsforcare.org.uk.