social networking


I’ve presented at conferences on the topic of the importance of social networking and social media for human services providers, and I have posted on this blog many times about our efforts at Keystone Human Services.  Now, many human services providers are on Twitter and Facebook, and it has me thinking about social networking and the people we support.  (For an example of the growing number of service providers on Twitter, see my list http://twitter.com/#/list/jbuford/intellectual-disability.)

People supported by human services providers are all vulnerable in one way or another—some only temporarily, others more systemically—and one of our important tasks is to shore up their areas of vulnerability.  Those efforts can sometimes lead to a blurring of the lines from a professional relationship to one that looks more like friendship.  The ethics of that are clearer in fields such as social work, psychology, and psychiatry (i.e. the principles of confidentiality and dual relationships)  than they are for the people who directly support people with intellectual disabilities, mental illness, autism, or other challenges in the community.  In this setting the guide posts are far murkier .

True to form, I have no answers to these myriad ethical dilemmas.  In fact, I don’t even have the questions.  I have a strong sense, though, that those of us who think we have an obligation to make sure our communities are welcoming to all people, need to think through the hazards, and the benefits, of “friending” people we support.    Already the digital divide disproportionately excludes many people from the community we all enjoy in the social media.

In my organization I’m putting together a diverse panel of people to begin to define questions and an ethical framework, but I’d like to have the conversation here in the social media as well.  Do you or your organization struggle to find the right answer to how to help someone with an intellectual disability navigate Facebook safely, without paternalism or odd blurring of lines?  Have you already answered questions about how to respond when someone you support “friends” you?  Please let me know how you are framing the questions, and maybe we can work together to craft answers.

Thanks!

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imagesDaniel Henninger, the author of the Wonder Land column in the WSJ, wrote today (10-29-2009) about “Obama and the Old Hat People.”  Today’s column is about the current health care reform proposals making their way through the US Congress, and the current emphasis on dramatically expanding Medicaid alongside the much-debated “public option.”  Henninger places the thinking behind these proposals squarely in the “old hat” category, calling them “pre-iphone” proposals.

Leaving aside the politics or the persuasiveness of his argument, his use of “old hat” thinking and “pre-iphone” proposals got me thinking about old hat, pre-iphone proposals in human services.  In this field we are all too familiar with the Medicaid model and its myriad rules, regulations, complexities, compliance pitfalls, and frustrations.  15 minute billing increments, arcane rounding rules, encounter forms, eligibility change management, concurrent auditing, and much much more are part of the daily lives of human services delivery systems and the people we support.  They are also a part of the infrastructure –human and technological–that human services organizations must have to survive.  We all have software designed to manage the minutia of the rules.

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It just doesn’t get much more old hat than that.  

Most human services organizations are moving to service models based fundamentally on the individual being served.  We call it person-centered-planning, self-determination, or any number of other names, but we are often stymied by old hat bureaucratic thinking.  In this time of technological innovation and social movements based on an increasing ability for individuals to belong to disparate de-centralized groups (social media being a very important example) AND an industry movement toward personal choice, we still haven’t been able to be very new hat, have we?

New hat would be a service delivery and funding model based on individually developed service plans.  New hat would be an iphone app that removes the bloat and just delivers the information relevant to that person in that moment.  I’m circling back, I think, to an earlier post about the need for innovation in human services.

 I want us to be post-iphone.  

We need to be new hat.

Twitter seems well on its way to becoming the social media tool that non-users love to hate.  A victim of its own good press and popularity, it’s now cool to be anti-Twitter.  This morning on NPR a proudly non-tweeting commentator exhorted us to keep our personal information to ourselves, to be more private, and to stop thinking that we’re cool.   And oh yeah, he threw in a cheesy gratuitous IT-geek insult at the end for punctuation.  Geez.  Uncool yet again.   Didn’t I pay my dues in middle school? in high school?  In college?  In graduate school?  Yikes!

Oh well.  Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether NPR’s Morning Edition Blogger John Ridley is the arbiter of coolness (he may well be; I would admittedly be among the last to know) I can tell you that I am an unabashed fan of  Twitter.   I can and do follow local events, thought leaders, interesting new friends, colleagues, and other non-profits.  In a very short amount of time it has found its way into a natural part of my work day, and I am delighted.  I was happy to see the responses to the Philanthropy.com blog post about non-profits and Twitter.  All the replies are positive and and reinforce my own experiences.  This is a great tool for community building and for conversing about relevant topics.

And if anyone wants to invite me and the rest of the IT team I work with to “two-for-one margaritas”  (read the aforementioned blog post)  I’ll be happy to go, but you’ll have to invite me the old fashioned way.  Email me.

 


My nonprofit has now been actively engaging with social networking for several months, and it has been very interesting.  While we were examining our strategy and our premise, silicon.com presented a much-tweeted about article titled “Twitter: The CIO’s best friend or chocolate teapot?”  After taking a moment just to enjoy the figure of speech, I learned that most of my CIO colleagues don’t have a Twitter strategy, nor do they think it’s part of their job TO have one.

It’s different for nonprofit CIOs, and it’s different still for nonprofit Human Services CIOs.  We need to be where our constituents and stakeholders are, and they are well represented on Twitter.  At KHS, we have an explicit strategy of disintermediation—of connecting as directly as possible with people who care about our mission and with people who could or are benefiting from our services, and Twitter is an important part of  that.

Twitter has helped us speak directly with adults with autism about our innovative (there’s that word again!) new Adult Community Autism Program, and has connected us more tightly with local media outlets.  It has also helped spark new conversations around our services in Moldova—especially during the days of the “Twitter Revolution” there.

On line communities and conversations come and go, but for me Twitter has become a part of my routine.  That feels like the beginning of a success story to me.

So far our efforts with social networking have produced mixed  results, which is not unaligned with our expectations.   All in all, though,  I’d say it’s been a success.

I’ll start not with the strategy, but with the functional areas of the organization we’re trying to impact.  Our first serious efforts were on behalf of Susquehanna Service Dogs (SSD), which is a program within Keystone Children & Family Services.  SSD holds PawsAbilities, its major fundraiser ,in March in Harrisburg PA.  It is a 2-day event and its success relies heavily on a large turnout.

This year we heavily promoted the event through Facebook groups and local event websites.  We recruited influential bloggers with service-dog credibility, to urge people to attend and/or to donate.  We tweeted before, during, and after the event.  We did live video streaming from some of the most fun events–like the dock dogs.  It was a lot of work!

The end result was more press coverage, happier vendors (they got much more exposure), a more connected support community, and about the same turnout as the prior year.  Given that the prior year was a year of very high attendance, and given that the US economy is very different this year (especially in mid-March) we’re calling this an enormous success.  The blogs are continuing and are generating real followers and creating distinct communities, which is wonderful.  The Facebook group has grown from about 25 members to over 700  (a squad!) and even our flagship website, www.keystonehumanservices.org is receiving new traffic.

Lessons learned  so far:

  • This is a lot of work, and it doesn’t seem to fall naturally into any one area of corporate responsibility.  In our case, IT is the champion, but that seems to be relatively rare.  Whoever takes the lead needs to be prepared to add a fair amount of workload.
  • The online toolset is still in a state of flux, so be prepared to try several before you land on the one(s) that are best suited to your organization.
  • Be prepared for internal skepticism.  There are still people in my organization who firmly believe that computers are time wasters, and that most people don’t need access to the Internet.  As much as I would sometimes like to dismiss that thinking as irrelevant in this decade, I need to take seriously the underlying concerns.  We have serious work to do, and we mustn’t let ourselves get distracted by fads. I need to be able to justify this effort with clear strategy statements and with clear results.

that’s all for today . . . .

 

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