Chapter four: Conclusions and recommendations
"Personal power decides who can or who cannot profit by a revelation; my experiences with my fellow men have proven to me that very, very few of them would be willing to listen; and of those few who listen even fewer would be willing to act on what they have listened to; and of those who are willing to act even fewer have enough personal power to profit by their acts."
Characteristics of information behaviour
Project INISS revealed three types of characteristic in the work behaviour of social services staff that appear to be of significance for the design and development of information services in social services departments and for the improvement of information flow. These are described below.
Some personal aspects of information behaviour occurred with sufficient frequency to suggest that they may be attributed generally to people working in this field. They are also so strongly represented as to suggest that they should be taken into account by the designer of a departmental information service.
First, there is heavy reliance upon oral forms of communication in face-to-face encounters and over the telephone, both within the department and without. For example, oral forms of communication accounted for 60% of all information events and combinations of oral and written forms (e.g., making notes during a conversation or reading out parts of a document during a telephone conversation) accounted for a further 10%.
Secondly, social services staff have a 'pragmatic' orientation towards information. That is, information is seen as relevant when it relates to work interests and responsibilities. Some evidence for this statement emerged out of evaluation of the Social Work Information Bulletin in that those items most in demand (measured by requests for photocopies) dealt with topics such as the implementation of the Children Act, 1975, payment of benefits, practical aspects of therapeutic counselling, and the whole area of child abuse.
Thirdly, in those departments we have investigated, there is heavy reliance upon personal information stores, which range from memory through diaries and notebooks, to personal information files. Little attention is devoted to up-dating information systematically.
Fourthly, social services staff have a 'unitary' concept of information; that is, anything that bears upon a problem, whatever its origins, is regarded as 'information' without sub-classification into internally generated information, externally produced documents, statistics, etc. Evidence for this is found in the personal information files noted above, which often include under a subject heading of interest, such as 'Non-accidental injury', a variety of documents, including departmental statistics, articles clipped from journals and newspapers, working party reports, and hand-written notes on conferences attended.
Finally, and closely associated with the work characteristics described below, social services staff can be characterised as 'reluctant' information seekers so far as general background information is concerned (because of the pressures of day-to-day responsibilities) and as 'unskilled' information seekers when it does become necessary, because of lack of training in the use of information resources (including local departmental resources).
The characteristics described above are the result of a number of factors including social work training, particularly the apprentice elements in training, and the associated characteristics of work. Probably the dominant observed characteristic of work is the highly fragmented nature of the working day. Over all subjects (from director to social worker) 36% of communication encounters lasted one minute or less and 75% lasted five minutes or less. Since this includes 'encounters' with documents as well as oral communication, it is clear that, in general, information products must be designed in such a way as to be dealt with by the recipient within the typical time allowed by his general work pattern. Not all such products can be read within five minutes but there appears to be no reason why sufficient indication cannot be provided for the member of staff to decide quickly whether an item should be reserved for later reading.
A further characteristic is the degree of participation in committees and the attendant use of committee papers, minutes and reports for communication. Project INISS has produced abundant evidence that meetings are important for information transfer and their potential as a focus for information services delivery is obvious.
Finally, work in these departments is subject to strict control of procedures to ensure that statutory requirements are observed and that expenditure on services is allocated to appropriate heads. This results in the production of procedural manuals and associated forms. These act as major media of internal communication and result in consequent problems in updating. The significance of procedural information suggests other approaches to the problem of information provision, such as issuing an index of expertize as a section of a manual, or providing information on the organization of office files and personal information files in the same way.
Social services departments can be categorized as service bureaucracies. In these departments structures and work roles are determined by a number of factors. At top management level a division of function into what might be termed management of the services and management of the bureaucracy is typical. Thus, one finds assistant directors for fieldwork services, or for residential services in the service management sector, and assistant directors for personnel or administration in the bureaucracy management sector. Within service management, specialization according to client group is common, with specialist advisers for child care, mentally handicapped persons, and other groups. At the level of the fieldwork teams, in spite of generic training, specializations develop and some departments operate on the basis of generic teams. This variation and specialization in work roles offers scope for specialized information services.
A factor imposing further structure is the geographical dispersion of the population in need. Divisional or area management structures are found with representatives of the two broad divisions noted above within each. In the shire counties the distance between area offices and headquarters may be considerable and introduces further communication and information flow problems. Where departments have any significant library or information facilities, the effectiveness of these services may be reduced. Information service design should take this geographic problem into account.
At the upper levels of the organization, work tasks and problems are essentially managerial and administrative and committees and working parties form an important element in the work. As noted above, members of staff at most levels are likely to be involved in such meetings and, for fieldwork staff, there are service-oriented meetings such as team meetings and supervisory sessions.
Finally, responsibility for information provision in social services departments is fragmented and involves different individuals with different work roles. Such individuals range from formally designated information officers through training and research staff, public relations officers, and committee clerks, to administrative and clerical staff. In some cases there is overlap between individuals in terms of the kinds of information covered, in other cases there is a lack of coordination. Scope exists both for the introduction of some in-service training in information handling and for the establishment of coordinating mechanisms for information services provision.
Certain categories of staff or of departmental activities (such as internal working parties) can be identified as potential targets for information services. These target groups would include: field social workers, their line managers at sector and zone levels, specialist advisers, and 'top management'. Target groups can also be identified in terms of other characteristics. For example, newcomers to a department (whether trained or not), 'isolated' staff working in sub-offices distant from both headquarters and area office, and groups which cluster according to special functions such as intermediate treatment workers.
In setting out our proposals for information services it should be stressed that we do not envisage that any department would or could implement them all. Which categories of staff or other target groups are considered most appropriate as recipients for new or developed services is a matter for the department to decide in the light of their own problem areas and priorities. Project INISS has been led to develop most of its ideas for innovations in the operational area but this does not imply that we consider organizational and managerial aspects of departments to be less important in terms of information service provision.
Recent efforts to develop computer-based management information systems for social services departments have faltered because of inability to enlist the active cooperation of staff affected at all levels and because insufficient attention has been paid to the difficulty of ensuring that appropriate statistical data are taken into account in policy formation. For a computer-based system to influence management, someone in the senior management team must be thoroughly familiar with the methods, results and implications of any data-collection programme and capable of presenting these results persuasively to other members of the team. In the absence of such interpreters, management statistics are, at best, used to justify decisions already arrived at by other means. During the planning stage of Project INISS two senior managers were asked to recall planning decisions arrived at as a result of statistics. They did so, but in every case discussion showed the statistics performing only a subordinate, rationalizing role. Similar results were reported following a recent study in Berkshire conducted for the Department of the Environment (1976).
Thomas Holland (1976) has noted that:
"The kinds of information most often used in planning and management decisions are usually not collected in any systematic manner and are only partially quantifiable. Examples include individual values, benefits priorities, previous experience with an activity, perceived capacity and readiness of staff to move, consumer preferences, and other very elusive areas."
Observation of senior staff at work suggests that most of the requisite legislation and the government circulars which regulate the provision of social services will reach them eventually. Similarly they acquire considerable knowledge of what other departments are doing in areas which affect them and about how their own department is performing in its provision of services. Senior staff appear to be constantly on the look out for this type of information as it affects their immediate work priorities and, to a lesser extent, their areas of responsibility. Their problems appear to be largely those of digesting and acting upon the informaiton received, ensuring that their knowledge of developments on their current preoccupaiton is up to date, and that they are being sufficiently alerted about trends in their areas of work generally. An information service aimed at senior management could be expected to concentrate upon four issues:
Proposal 1A: Provision of a selective dissemination service on themes of current importance to senior management staff.
These themes are likely to change fairly frequently and regular consultation would be necessary to ensure that the types of information supplied were relevant. Emphasis would be placed upon 'soft' information, that is upon news of developments and trends rather than systematically compiled data.
Proposal 1B: Location and acquisition of specific information in narrower project areas within the range of current interests of specific members of senior management.
Such a service would have to be supplied to order and its use would depend on the information officer establishing a personal relationship with senior staff which would enable him to demonstrate his skills. It is probable that this area of work has the biggest long-term potential in that if successful the information unit would come to be an integral part of the policy creating section of the department. Observation evidence suggests that senior staff will not themselves systematically perform such a role.
Proposal 1C: Provision of a low-key but systematic current awareness service of developments outside the department in the broader area of each senior manager's responsibility.
Most of the information sections visited have either not attempted to fulfil any of these three functions for top management or have concentrated upon not very systematic work in this area. Part of the effectiveness of this type of service depends upon its being seen by recipients to be systematic.
Proposal 1D: Collection and dissemination of internal performance information or comparative performance information.
Where the information officer might well be of use is in gathering suitable comparative performance information from other departments and in helping to identify and overcome weaknesses in the management data gathering services of the home department. This latter task would depend upon the role envisaged for the information officer and the attitude towards the incumbent held by senior staff in line management positions.
Improvements in the collection of these types of information are long overdue. A Social Work Service Development Group (1975) report claimed that:
"It would be difficult for many directors of social services to state how many people in a year have asked their departments for help, who referred them, why they came, and whether or not they were known to other agencies who might have relevant information about them. Even where such information is collected, reliable and up-to-date, a director cannot compare his situation with other local authorities, since information other than national statistics is not generally assembled in comparable form either between local authorities or even, sometimes, within parts of the same local authority."
In offering these proposals for consideration we are conscious that the present incumbents of most information officer posts in departments valid not, for a number of reasons, including their internal status and attitudes towards their work, be able to provide these services. Effective information services to departmental senior managers can only be provided by relatively senior staff in a new role.
Departments employ a range of research, training and planning staff who have potentially important information roles which could be furthered by providing suitable information support services. The skills of the trained librarian in obtaining, classifying, collating and disseminating written and published material are particularly important here. Since many of the demands made upon specialist staff involve a comparatively short period of preparation time, only the material ready to hand is likely to be called upon. During observation a research officer was asked to estimate the cost of performing various tasks as part of the supporting evidence for a research proposal:
Obtaining time costing standards information
S = subject; M = research worker; A = social worker who initiated the proposa1.
It is notable that although considerable efforts were being expended in this case, they did not extend to making any kind of thorough search for comparable information from other departments, beyond looking at the section collection of reports from other departments. The subject made a passing comment that "comparative costings of different methods of care are very difficult", suggesting that previous attention had been paid to this type of problem. A potential role for a librarian/information officer in cases such as this one, to reduce the necessity of searching beyond the department as issues arise by assembling a more extensive collection of reports and publications, seems fairly clear.
Headquarters-based professional staff offer a ready-made client group for an effectively-developed library service. It must be clear, however, that such a service would need to be developed in close cooperation with the potential users and that the librarian would need to build up a much 'closer understanding of the work of his users and the constraints under which this work is performed than is customarily the case. A relatively small, carefully selected and constantly weeded stock would be essential and would need to include as much relevant, 'unpublished' information from other departments as could be obtained. To support the kinds of information service suggested under 1A to ID above a cuttings file of current 'news' items would be a useful component of the library service. Above all, the development of cooperative links with other agencies would be of crucial importance.
Proposal 2: Development of a properly staffed and organized research library, primarily for use by research, planning and training staff, but a potential focal point for all enquiries from department staff relating to externally published information. (See also proposal 10 below)
Whether advisory staff are seen as an attempt to maintain 'pre-Seehohm' expertize in the provision of services for particular client groups, as advisers to senior management or as a support service for fieldworkers, they appear to have a potentially important information role. This role is limited by at least five factors:
One possible role for an information officer in a department is as a 'go-between' or contact point, so that staff needing advice can be steered to the most appropriate contact ('official' advisers or otherwise) and enquiries can be conveyed to advisers if they prove to be elusive. It may be argued that this approach downgrades the information officer to the level of message-taker, but sensitive vetting of enquiries should enable him to steer people towards a range of appropriate sources and to free the advisers to perform their role more adequately. One other objection might be that since the majority of information staff in departments are employed in research sections (Streatfield, 1978) problems of accountability would arise. These might be overcome by incorporating the information unit within a reconstituted advisory section which might also encompass the research section.
Advisers seem to be amongst the obvious candidates within any department for a selective dissemination of information service covering documentation on whatever they see as important aspects of their subject fields, or service provision generally. The types of information likely to be of interest include both 'technical' information on methods or the implications of statutory obligations, for example, and more general 'soft' information including news of developments in their fields in the form of research reports, case studies and staff movements announcements.
Proposal 3: Employment of information staff as referral points on behalf of advisers, perhaps within an advisory section of the department.
Proposal 4: Provision of selective dissemination of information services for advisers, covering both published material and reports drawn from outside the department. (See also Proposal 6 below)
A sector director described how he handled incoming information:
"So many communications are coming into the area; I have to identify priorities. How to go about it is difficult, directly or through meetings or groups of senior social workers - these are the options."
Interviewer: "How would you normally go about it?"
"If I wanted immediate feedback I would send it to the area staff meeting. If it's a management issue to the area management to marshall our thoughts before bringing it to the area [staff meeting]. Or ask senior social workers to get an exchange of views or information across at a sub-team meeting. It depends on the issue, I use a rule of thumb."
Of eleven line managers interviewed four claimed that in general they got too much information and another four gave more complex replies which would be summarized as "too much irrelevant, not enough relevant information." Elaboration included:
"There's too much standard bumph, for example Parliamentary stuff, voluntary organization leaflets, application forms [for jobs] etc. I send it to people who should make the most use of it ..."
The position of line managers at the apex of their local organizational pyramids, serving as channels through which much of the communication passes to and from their areas, is strikingly similar to that of the director described earlier who said that:
"One of my major jobs is making sure that the paper goes to the right person who is working on it and also that different sections of the department have got the information or document they require ... a lot of my responsibility is deciding the route."
Transmission of written forms of communication down from headquarters to zones and sectors appeared to be more or less haphazard although it was to some extent dictated by the demands of the management committee cycle. This could be particularly frustrating if the recipients were not aware of the context. One new sector director described how he had just discovered the department's programme of work giving committee deadlines etc. In the past, demands for certain kinds of information had come to him 'out of the blue' and he had no way of relating these demands to any work programme.
A limited amount could be done in most departments to simplify the downward flow of written forms of communication by:
A headquarters-based information officer might be able to encourage the introduction of measures of the kind outlined and ensure that these practices were usually followed. Scope for provision of other services to line managers will depend upon the particular needs and attitudes of individuals.
Proposal 5A: Information staff should take responsibility for ensuring some measure of control over written forms of information flowing down to zones and sectors by seeking the implementation of good practices (such as those outlined in a) to e) above) and by encouraging their widespread adoption.
As already noted sector and zone directors are primarily concerned with man management but are unlikely to find time to read general publications on personnel management or accounts of social services staff management experiences.
Proposal 5B: Summaries of significant findings and developments in personnel management, particularly those relating to social work, should be prepared and circulated to department line managers. This service should be reviewed and modified at regular intervals.
Proposal 5C: Provision of in-service training courses for zone and sector directors covering developments in staff management might be considered by training staff. Information staff might well be involved with the training section in compiling the basic course information and reacting to information needs identified during courses.
Operational level staff
Most of the proposals developed by Project INISS are focused upon the operational level of departments and refer particularly to social workers. The particular focus of each proposal is indicated below.
New staff, particularly social workers
There is fairly general acceptance, supported by observation, that extensive 'reconditioning' of newly trained social workers takes place at the elbows of more senior colleagues. Part of this process involves identifying valuable contacts.
Generic social work practice results in demand for information about a range of services for a variety of client groups. The types of information required include descriptions of counselling methods, information on resources and benefits available and on problems relating to the provision of specific client services, such as the legal interpretation of statutory obligations.' Apart from advisory and specialist staff, departments contain a volume of expertize acquired through training, job experience and individual interests and involvement both within and outside the department, which could be harnessed.
Proposal 6A: A regular bulletin service containing summaries of published items on topics identified as relevant to social workers should be developed. (See also Proposal 11).
Proposal 6B: An organization-wide consulting service based upon an index to sources of specialist personal knowledge would be established by group interviews, questionnaires and other means. Although the concept of an index of expertize was developed primarily with the needs of new staff in mind, it would have obvious potential value to all staff. The index might take the form of a single file of cards, sector office files or a duplicated directory and could be prepared through an information unit. This innovation is being explored in the current phase of Project INISS.
In geographically dispersed departments such as those serving non-metropolitan counties, social services staff may have no ready access to current monograph material. The innovation proposed would involve the public libraries department in regularly providing material to an area office.
Proposal 7: Collections of recent monographs in the broad area of social service interests should be placed in area offices. The support of the public libraries department in providing and maintaining the service could be sought since there are precedents for similar types of service provision in schools, hospitals, prisons etc. Variations on this idea are being tested in two departments as part of the current project programme.
Project INISS research has shown that social workers experience difficulty in obtaining certain kinds of information. In particular, they instanced difficulties with DHSS leaflets, legal documentation, information on possible side-effects of medication and information on the resources and objectives of local voluntary organizations. These difficulties may lead to the development of personal information stores which are sometimes seen as necessary because of the lack of an 'official' system.
Proposal 8: An attempt should be made to rationalize the processes of acquiring and storing documentary information in team offices, by the preparation of standard information packs or by developing an information collection guide for use by administrative support staff or social workers. Information officers might well take a lead in developing and implementing such services. Two social work teams are now helping project staff to elaborate and test this idea.
Both social workers and administrative staff appear to be relatively uninformed about information sources and the organization and control of information systems.
Proposal 9) One or more courses in information handling should be mounted for social workers and administrative support staff to include the following topics:
Specific gaps in information provision may be revealed which could be filled by the systematic development of information packs.
Three training courses have been mounted in departments as part of the current phase of Project INISS.
All department staff
A limited range of information services is at present provided within some departments. The most common are listed below together with proposals for developing them.
Most, if not all, social services departments maintain some form of headquarters collection of books and other publications. All the departmental libraries visited by Project INISS staff were small; typically a single room containing runs of journals, collections of council minutes, a few basic monographs on social welfare topics, a small collection of reference books and some pamphlets, reports and documents. These collections were usually maintained by one or two staff as part of their information or administrative role. Any serious attempt to exploit existing book stocks and make a range of library services available to staff, would require considerable injections of funds as well as resort to the public libraries department and to inter-library loan facilities.
The overall level of staffing and equipping departmental libraries reflects the low priority being given to formal provision of information in general and externally produced material in particular. This low priority seems to us unfortunate not only because of dissatisfaction in departments with the present level of provision but because in a situation where demands on existing services are increasing continually and financial support is (relatively) stagnant, the introduction of new ideas from outside offers an opportunity for some progress within existing constraints.
Proposal 10: Staffing levels and expenditure on departmental libraries should be reviewed to ensure that it is possible for the department to keep up to date with published reports (of all kinds) on developments in the field.
Newspaper and journal services
These types of service are frequently offered to departments either internally or through a local government information unit, libraries department of publicity section. Local authority-wide journal abstracting bulletins are sometimes offered and may meet some information needs but they will inevitably include a high proportion of irrelevant items. Some departments have attempted to provide their own scanning service for journals but this is inevitably a time-consuming process which, at best, can aspire towards limited coverage. Cooperative scanning services such as the SWIB service appear to offer promising possibilities. SWIB can be purchased on subscription or under licence but the difficulty then is to gain access to a comparable data base to meet the requests that are generated. The British Library lending service could be used to a limited extent but our work with SWIB suggests that the demand is likely to be heavy. Similar considerations apply when using the DHSS Social service abstracts although the DHSS library photocopy service might be used to some degree. In order to test the viability of another department exploiting a SWIB-type service:
Proposal 11A: Social services departments might adopt the SWIB service for an experimental period. The local public library service could provide the support required to supply appropriate journal articles, using its link with the British Library Lending Division. User surveys could help to elucidate the level of satisfaction with the service. A similar approach might be developed based on Social service abstracts. A SWIB service using local back-up resources is being evaluated by Project INISS in Islington.
Many departments appear to have no rational policy for acquiring or circulating social work journals. This absence of a rational basis for distributing journals seems most seriously to affect staff in geographically spread sub-offices.
Proposal 11B: Departmental practices in obtaining and circulating journals should be reviewed and rationalized so that all appropriate staff have some opportunity to see at least the main social services journals. This idea is being explored as part of the current project programme.
Information staff in departments are sometimes involved in the production of bulletins and other publications intended to convey information to department staff. Alterations in the presentation of such publications might be made towards achieving two goals:
Interview results suggest that bulletins concentrating on the provision of legal information and news of developments in social work would find a ready audience.
Proposal 12A: Existing departmental bulletins and other publications should be examined to see whether improvements in their content, appearance or production methods can be achieved. The new Sheffield Newsheet is now being examined in this way.
The next proposal goes directly counter to the path chosen by many information staff when seeking to establish their information unit within the department. Attempts to draw attention to the information unit origins of a document or publication may be counter-productive. Observation in departments suggests that, in the words of a deputy director, "one of the filters on what stuff to read is who sends it to you."
Proposal 12B: Attempts could be made to route poorly received publications through individuals with high credibility as authoritative information sources in order to improve the acceptability of the contents.
Selective dissemination of information
Project INISS work. has demonstrated that staff are reluctant to seek out information, but will make use of whatever information readily comes to hand if it affects their immediate task or problem. However, little time is devoted to scanning information received 'passively'. A well administered SDI service, which takes account of people's current work interests and packages information in an easily digestible form, should provide the basis for a valuable departmental information service.
Proposal 13: More attention should be given to provision of selective dissemination of tnformation services for key groups of staff identified in consultation with senior management.
Uncertainties about the availability of legal advice for fieldworkers were voiced in various departments. Doubts were raised about the currency of advice received from designated contacts in the legal departments of some authorities, suggesting that social services information officers might develop an additional information role outside their own departments.
Proposal 14: Information staff should liaise with designated legal advisers in other departments of the authority (or other agencies as appropriate) whose responsibilities include advising social services staff about legislation. Where appropriate these staff could be supplied with an SDI service from the information unit of the social services department.
Background papers for committees and working parties
A number of committee discussions were observed in which it was apparent that participants were inadequately informed about the issue under discussion or its application in the department. One potential role for an information officer, working with other key staff, could be:
Proposal 15: Provision of background papers for members of staff in the format of other committee papers. The information unit origins of such papers should not be emphasised. It would be necessary to Identify working parties with a specific brief suitable for information provision in this way. A variation on this idea, focused on in-service training courses, has been developed in two departments with Project INISS help.
Departmental information officers
Most of the department information officers and librarians encountered in the course of Project INISS have taken a relatively low-key role in their work. They usually appeared to see themselves as offering a range of services to middle-management at headquarters and to others who sought their help but confined their department-wide activity to bulletin production and distribution.
The information officer role envisaged in the proposals above is very different. We have reached the conclusion that, whatever the specific tasks allotted to him (or her), the information officer must be able to perform his work in a dynamic manner which will enable him to exploit the informal contact network as well as the formal communication system. Above all an information officer working in departments of this kind needs to be familiar with the wide variety of tasks performed by the staff, and with the associated information needs. To acquire this degree of familiarity an information officer must visit different work sites, talk with as wide a variety of staff as possible and, where feasible, carry out periods of observation at formal meetings or in individual offices.
The deeper the understanding the information officer has of the work of his client group the more effectively can service be designed to meet its information needs. A period of induction training, apportioned over perhaps the first year of appointment, should be seen as essential. Whether places can be found in departments for information staff of this type and whether the candidates for such posts exist in sufficient numbers is problematic. However, we believe that there is very considerable scope for a 'new breed' of information officer.
Proposal 16: Information staff should be recruited by departments to carry out development programmes drawing upon some of the previously listed proposals.
Innovations in other areas of departmental information provision
All of the proposals so far. put forward assume the involvement of an effective information officer. A number of the problems encountered by Project INISS , could more appropriately be met by other means.
Training for meetings
Communication of information through scheduled meetings is not always effective (see proposals 9 and 15 above) and in view of the high proportion of professional staff time consumed in meetings the provision of training courses in committee chairmanship and participation might well be appropriate. This type of training is offered from time to time as part of full-time training courses in social work but facilities for improving skills in working with committees in departments are limited. Some of the more senior staff might object to being subjected to committee training, unless an oblique approach in which the emphasis is moved from overall performance to particular skills such as those identified by McCaughan (1977), is adopted.
Proposal 17 In-service training courses in committee handling and meeting participation, with particular emphasis on information dissemination, should be developed.
Research staff were frequently appointed in social services departments as a result of the implementation of the Seebohm recommendations. Their roles are sometimes poorly defined and there appears to be a tendency for some research workers to take on jobs largely because they do not fall within the specific sphere or responsibility of anyone else. Examination of the tasks undertaken by research staff might identify areas of work which could more appropriately be tackled by other means. Perhaps more significantly the management role of research staff frequently appears to have been given scant attention beyond token assignment of responsibility for research to a member of the senior management team. In the words of a senior research officer, during observation:
"The management group are preoccupied with management information. There's a bit of a problem in getting dialogue with the management group. I work on scraps thrown and I'm trying to show by example what kind of work we can do. Basic research or administrative work? We're trying to assess the achievement of objectives, but we're often unclear about what the objectives are."
Headquarters-based research staff appear to find difficulty in relating their work to the needs and aspirations of field-based staff, who, for their part, sometimes see department research staff as irrelevant. Assuming that departments do not see their research staff merely as data-gatherers on issues identified from time to time by senior management, several tactics might be adopted to ensure further communication between social workers and department research officers. Departments which do not at present have research committees with representatives from various levels and types of staff, might see advantages in setting them up.
Proposal 18A: A forum established (in departments which lack them at present) between the research section and senior management of each department, through which broad research strategies could be developed and information exchanged about, on the one hand, what senior management expects of its research team, and, on the other hand, what the research team is capable of undertaking.
Proposal 18B: Research committees with representatives from various staff levels and types should be established to provide a vehicle for research ideas to be voiced and considered.
A gap between research staff based at headquarters with no direct experience of social work and fieldworkers with little appreciation of the potential benefits of departmental research, might be bridged by various means:
Proposal 18C: Newly appointed research staff should undergo periods of induction training in the field;
Proposal 18D: Research staff should be seconded to sector or zone levels to concentrate upon increasing awareness of research practices and benefits locally and to ascertain field-level research needs;
Proposal 18E: Research posts could be created at zone or sector level to encourage greater flexibility in communication of research information between organizational levels and to concentrate more research information at zone or sector level. This approach appears to be a natural development in large counties which have delegated considerable responsibility to zone directors.
Comments were received about the failure of departments to provide fieldworkers with basic information about the performance of the department.
Proposal 18F: Attention should be given to the possibility of preparing brief statistical reports using simple methods of presentation, to describe the operational performance of the department, for distribution to the staff.
The absence in many departments of any systematic attempt to draw the attention of staff to forthcoming training courses led to some suspicion about motives in 'suppressing' this information. The one department which published a training bulletin (of the four where interviews were conducted) generated a relatively low level of complaint about unmet need for training information presumably because most interested staff were placed in a position to assess the quantity, availability and suitability of training places available.
Proposal 19: Departments should give consideration to the production of regular training bulletins for internal circulation.
A statement of the roles and functions of headquarters-based advisory staff making clear the extent to which their services are available to field-based staff, might be difficult to achieve in some departments, which have preferred not to make these matters too explicit, presumably for fear of overloading advisers with requests for help from the field (or because the roles and functions have not been resolved). Nevertheless, such statements are needed and would be welcomed by field-based staff. Some social services departments insist that their management advisers do not act as consultants to social workers, and although this situation can lead to frustration when advice is urgently needed, such frustration is likely to increase if the social worker does not know whether, and how, the adviser can help.
Proposal 20: The role of advisory staff in relation to fieldworkers should be defined and publicized.
The apparent success of the training bulletin referred to above suggests that there may be scope for more 'specialist' bulletins within departments. Apart from centrally produced house journals and information bulletins, some sector directors also produced newsletters (by stockpiling items for eventual typing and duplication) but advisory staff did not appear to do so. Provision of bulletins covering research findings, training information and news on particular client groups (e.g., the mentally handicapped) might also involve other departments of the authority (e.g., education) or more than one social services department in production. An alternative approach might be to use existing bulletins more systematically tor the provision of these types of information.
Proposal 21: Advisers should consider producing bulletins on their specialism where local circumstances appear to warrant this.
Training sessions on the implementation of the Children act 1975 were observed but in general there appeared to be little attempt in departments to review the implications of legislation by means of staff training sessions. Specialist advisers, in association with the training section, might find this a useful activity, both in order to ensure better social work practice and to obtain feedback on problems in implementing legislation or procedure instructions. Where legal advisers have been appointed within other departments, they might also become involved in such training sessions.
Proposal 22: Consideration should be given to the introduction of training sessions on difficult areas of legislation affecting social services provision.
It has been noted in the previous part of this report that department staff seem reluctant to undertake the onerous tasks of compiling and updating directories of organizations and resources or procedure manuals. Part of this reluctance may stem from doubts about the likely level of use of these publications but our work in departments suggests that local directories would be widely welcomed and that procedure manuals would attract some use if the instructions were clearly written and comprehensive. Since existing department staff are unlikely to shoulder the burden of compilation willingly we suggest:
Proposal 23: Staff should be designated or appointed, possibly on short-term contract, to compile directories for use in departments and to develop procedures for updating the information they contain.
Proposal 24: Staff should be designated to work with advisers and others to prepare manuals of procedure instructions for use by tieldwork staff and to develop programmes for updating the procedures where appropriate.
Our proposals have been presented in a form which should enable people involved in social services to select potential innovations according to their own departmental priorities. It should, however, be emphasised that these proposals should not be seen in isolation from each other, or from the important work, organizational and individual characteristics which influence communication. No single proposal will itself 'solve' an information problem; improvements in the communication of information within a department (by which we do not necessarily mean an increase in the flow of information) can only be brought about by awareness of the need to make improvements coupled with a determination to do so.
We believe that the most important step in this process is for the department staff themselves to review their attitudes towards information and assess the priority which they wish to place upon particular parts of the overall communication system, whether at institutional, managerial or operational levels. Only then can appropriate choices by made from our list of proposals, or other ideas be developed to meet particular needs.
Proposal 25: Department staff at headquarters, zone or sector levels should review their own information priorities and decide where any emphasis should be placed in efforts to improve communication.
Further research areas
Information in organizations
We believe that Project INISS has clearly demonstrated that the information system of an organization should not be considered in isolation from the rest of the organizational structure and that notice must also be taken of managerial constraints and personal characteristics. Too much emphasis on issues as they are viewed from the perspective of the information unit may produce inappropriate responses to communication problems. In our view much previous work in providing and assessing information services in organizations has been ineffective precisely because too narrow a view was taken of the overall communication picture. Examination of the communication practices and problems of a particular kind of organization, in the course of Project INISS, has shown the need to differentiate information services according to the work roles of individuals and the types of information relevant to that work. We would be surprised to discover that similar considerations did not apply in other types of organization and would like to see further research conducted in organizations to establish the key factors which influence information needs in particular work situations. An action research mode, in which agencies work in association with the research group in an attempt to develop 'tailor-made' information services and evaluate their effectiveness, appears to present great possibilities for the future.
Certain areas of work offer interesting prospects for future development. The provision of legal information in departments presented a number of problems which have not yet been effectively overcome. A need apparently exists to keep up to date with the implications of changes affecting, or likely to affect, the large number of statutes which departments have to apply in their work. The demise of Parliament and Social Work suggests that the 'alerting journal' approach does not work. An alternative might be to develop a project" in association with the legal department of a local authority to extend the role of consultant staff in legal departments (see proposals above). Training seminars could be conducted on new (and not so new) legislation, on the problems of applying legislation and on the need for changes in the law. Various methods of providing legal information to social services department staff and to the legal consultants could be assessed.
Other department staff
A generous estimate of the proportion of social services department staff considered during the various stages of Project INISS would be 20% of the total. Day care and residential staff, home helps and their organizers, hospital social workers and community workers were all excluded from the field of interest of Project INISS, but this is not to suggest that their information needs are unimportant. Although recognising the need to limit the field of study for Project INISS, department managers have frequently expressed concern about what they see as poor communication between senior management and residential homes in particular. Recent studies have indicated that other centre staff (Laudet, 1977) and hospital social workers (Yeadon, 1976) also experience a variety of communication problems which should be further investigated.
A recommendation has already been made (proposal 24) about the compilation and maintenance of department procedure manuals. One possible contribution to meeting this problem in future may be made by applying word processing machines to this work. If the editing facilities significantly reduced the updating problem for procedure manuals other applications would no doubt be found in organizations for this type of equipment.
A variety of statutory and non-statutory agencies provide information services to social services departments or have facilities which can be tapped by social workers and others. The relationship between these agencies and social services departments might well merit further examination. In particular, certain non-statutory agencies such as the National Children's Bureau and the National Youth Bureau have expressed interest in assessing the effectiveness of their information services and the possibility exists for experimental provision of services to specific departments, possibly involving the modification of existing services. Similarly the relationship between local voluntary agencies and departments merits further examination, especially in relation to the exchange of information between them. Project INISS results suggest that at both national and local levels non-statutory bodies play a relatively small but significant part in the overall communication system functioning in departments.
Information support for new social workers
A proposal for providing newly qualified and appointed staff with information support services, from the establishment in which they were trained, was referred to above. It is appreciated that this proposal would have 'political' consequences in that departments might not welcome what could be interpreted as an attempt by 'academics' to resist the necessary reconditioning of new entrants to their departments. However, experimental provision of such a service would help to identify the types of information which new staff feel they need, would provide some insight into the kinds of value conflict which they experience after joining a department, as well as providing the training establishments with valuable feedback which might influence future course design. We would like to see an experimental programme of this kind adopted.
Development of the Project INISS programme
Having developed our ideas on potentially valuable innovations we made a successful approach to the Department of Health and Social Security for research funds to enable a further stage of our work to take place. Several of the proposals outlined are being field-tested in the course of an action research programme due to be completed on October 31st 1980.