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Mary Siwiak-Jaszek

Virtual working hasn’t prevented real-life progress

As we entered into lockdown back in March I was worried about how IMPOWER would continue to deliver our work for local authorities across the country. How could we continue to engage with stakeholders such as schools, social workers and health services as part of our work?

Working shoulder to shoulder with council staff (and the staff of their partners) is a key part of our EDGEWORK approach. We believe that the most important change in complex systems is delivered at the frontline, through empowering those who work directly with people to drive innovation and adopt new ways of working.

Fortunately, we have found that virtual meetings and workshops are still an effective way to engage with stakeholders across the system, particularly as our clients’ appetite for improving outcomes is undiminished. There have even been unexpected benefits to virtual working.

Below I have highlighted just a few examples of the work we have been able to conduct virtually in conjunction with our clients:

  • Case reviews which identified opportunities to improve outcomes for children with additional needs with partners across a local authority. Using multi-agency video calls, practitioners considered local cases, identifying where a different type of support might have changed needs. This work will help the authority set a new ambition and develop an implementation plan for the future of services within High Needs.
  • Trials of our Valuing SEND tool, which articulates a holistic view of a child or young person’s needs and the ways that these can be supported. At these sessions Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators (SENCos) from across a range of settings learnt about the tool and had the opportunity to try it out. Using an online webinar for the trial actually increased the number of participants, as many SENCos would find it hard to attend an off-site workshop.
  • Workshops with key stakeholders to develop a primed performance dashboard, using virtual whiteboards to help shape ideas in real-time. We have found that using virtual tools can help create the space to create new ideas and fast-forward them into action. Although these sessions can take a higher level of preparation than face-to-face meetings, our experience has been that in some cases they deliver increased focus and pace.

Virtual working certainly has its challenges, from failing internet connections to faulty microphones, and it can limit the ability to connect on a more informal level. But we have also found that it can provide flexibility for engaging partners, create focus on a task by limiting external distractions, and (most importantly) allow us to continue to engage with our clients and their partners as they work to improve outcomes and manage costs.

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