Digital, Safeguarding and Kindness: Exploring Organisation Policies

October 4, 2019

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by Anna Grant, Senior Policy and Development Officer, Carnegie UK Trust

This is the second blog in the #NotWithoutMe Lab series exploring Digital and Social Media Use in Youth Support, with a particular focus on organisational digital policies and practice. The key themes from the first Lab can be viewed in our previous blog, which also provides an overview of the Lab activities and process.

Social media companies have scarcely been out of the headlines in 2019. Barely a week has passed which has not included a news headline critical of their design, processes or practice. Moves towards regulation of social media sites and other similar online platforms have begun to gain traction and form during this time. The Trust has contributed to this work by developing and advocating for a ‘duty of care’ approach to regulation.

While this debate endures at a national level, concerns are also growing at an organisational level about ‘appropriate’ use of digital technology, particularly social media when supporting young people, and how organisations themselves should respond to these challenges.

The Trust has been exploring these themes in our recent #NotWithoutMe Lab series. Our second #NotWithoutMe Lab was conducted in Glasgow with a range of youth organisations, with a focus on attendees from practitioner and front line service.

Emerging Themes:

  • Staff Wellbeing – While the initial impetus for exploring this topic was the impact that restrictive or absent digital policies were having on user wellbeing, there are also clear implications for staff wellbeing. The discussions reaffirmed the negative impact that internalising many of the tensions around digital have on individual staff members. This was compounded by the recognition that what they are doing is potentially going against organisational procedure and a lack of understanding around where the boundaries are.
  • Historic Policies – In developing digital policies, the Lab attendees noted that there is scope to learn from policies that have been in place for many years, for example ‘Lone Worker’ policies, which focus on the protection of staff. Alternatively, text messaging is now a well-recognised and supported communication method across many youth organisations which when first introduced a number of years ago felt like a radical shift, so what can be learnt from the practice and polices developed in this transition?
  • Language – Ensuring that everyone is speaking the same language and agreeing on interpretations is core to effective action. As one comment highlighted, “reading our digital policy felt like it had been written by a dinosaur talking to an alien” as they had been drafted, for clear reasoning to very legal and technical standards, creating challenges both for staff interpreting the policies but also in how they communicated the reasoning to young people they support. There was consensus across the attendees that the language used in any digital related policies and processes (or organisational policies in general) should be understood not just internally by staff, but also by the young people they are working with. This would enable and contribute to transparency in the organisation’s ways of working.
  • Who is involved in the process? – However, there was an obvious recognition that in reality, ensuring policies and procedures are both thorough and accessible is not straightforward. Differing responsibilities and accountability of individuals or departments involved can make it difficult to create a shared vision. The Lab attendees stressed the importance of ensuring that all relevant parties are in the room to have input into what is needed.
  • Marketing Channel or Service Provider? – Social media channels are undoubtedly an effective way for many organisations to market their services to a number of their target audiences. Some organisations highlighted that their social media channels were seen internally as purely as marketing opportunities, and explicitly not as routes to deliver services. ‘Services’ and ‘social media’ were seen as having very different purposes, with different responsibilities and different teams managing them. Yet inevitably these organisations were still receiving disclosures and requests for services through these channels. Therefore, what is the responsibility of organisations to ensure all staff – including marketing – are well equipped to deal with potential situations that may arise through social media or digital platforms?
  • Invisibility of digital engagement – There was a general frustration that the time and complexity involved with managing social media accounts and interactions across multiple platforms simply wasn’t recognised by organisations, and that an inbuilt bias remains that doing something through social media is significantly easier and quicker than other methods, for example email. This was compounded by much of the work being undertaken outside of standard working hours.
  • GDPR – It is difficult in 2019 to have a discussion that involves digital technology and interactions with external users, without the four letters G-D-P-R being raised in some form. However, opinion varied across the room in terms of the significance of GDPR in this space, but it was noted that it was another on a long list of considerations, and there was concern that it was sometimes used as a blanket justification for overly risk averse or restrictive policies and practice.
  • Technical vs Social – Yet again passwords provided a rich ground for discussion, but also typified many of the other conversations throughout the Lab. Namely; when is a technical solution appropriate (password managers, remote rest) and which situations require social solutions, behavioural or cultural change (conversations around responsibility and ownership, creating a password system or using a passphrase for improved recall). Or indeed a combination approach.

But what actually is best practice? Despite the perceived ‘universal’ and ‘neutral’ nature of digital technology, in practice what will work effectively in one organisation for one group young people may not be appropriate for another. What we have learnt from other work of the Trust on enabling kindness within a work force, is the need to support staff to have the autonomy to make individualised decision, accounting for the context, risk, and individual involved.

The purpose of this work though the #NotWithoutMe Labs is not to provide the ‘gold standard’ of how all organisations working with young people should operate, but provide a platform and resources for people to open up the conversation within their organisations and provide useful prompts directly by other similar organisations for consideration.