The internet, social life & social services

An extraordinary meeting of geeks, internet researchers, social services managers, academics and regulators took place in Glasgow on the 14th and 15th of September to discuss the impact of the Internet on contemporary social life and future social services.

The event was opened by Neil Ballantyne, Research Director of Connected Practice, who said that: “The Internet is 40 years old this year, the web is 20, and Internet penetration has tipped to over 70% of all UK households. The network revolution is still unfolding but its social impact will be at least as great as the industrial revolution. This research symposium aims to encourage discussion of the ways in which the Internet is affecting social life, and to consider how it might impact social services delivery now and in the future.”

Held in the Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Strathclyde, over 60 individuals participated in the symposium and debated topics as diverse as online child protection, the real-time electronic surveillance of offenders, the ethics of telecare and many other social services technology related topics.

The event was kick-started by Bernie Hogan from the Oxford Internet Institute, and Kristen Berg from Netlab at the University of Toronto. Bernie and Kristen discussed methods for studying social networks online and presented data from the Netlabs Connected Lives project. danah boyd from Microsoft Research and the Berkman Centre for Internet and Society talked about her work on teenagers use of social network sites such as MySpace and asked: “Now that the Internet has made the communications, and interactions (and sometimes the pain) of young people potentially far more visi

-ble. How do social services respond? Is it possible for social services to do preventive or outreach work online? And what are the ethical issues at stake here?”

Danah’s talk was followed by an affirmation of the role of professional youth work online by Tim Davies of Practical Participation; and an exploration of the issues for corporate parents in managing online access of ‘looked after’ children and young people by Zachari Duncalf from the Scottish Institute for Residential Child Care, and Ellen Daly from Connected Practice. Day one ended with a review of the psychology of Internet behaviour offered by Adam Joinson joint editor of the Oxford Handbook of Internet Psychology.

The second day was opened by Dick Schoech, Professor of Social Work at the University of Texas and editor of the Journal of Human Service Technology. Dick explored the implications for social services managers and service users of the growing interconnectedness of data within human service agencies. Mike Nellis, Professor of Community Justice from the Glasgow School of Social Work, offered an Orwellian but completely non-fiction view of plans in place to monitor and track offenders by satellite in real time, and asked what the implications might be for future probation services? Sophie Beale from the York Health Economics Consortium reviewed an evaluation of Scottish Government’s telecare development programme, and Andrew Eccles, from the Glasgow School of Social Work, debated some of the ethical issues emerging from the roll out of telecare.

During the final two sessions delegates heard Ann Wales and Annette Thain from NHS Education for Scotland discuss plans for the online knowledge service Social Services Knowledge Scotland. They listened to Walter LaMendola from the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver debate new kinds of presence for social work in the online world; and they participated in a session to identify the skills required for ‘virtual’ social work practice with Jackie Rafferty, Director of the Centre for Human Service technology at the University of Southampton.

If you missed this unusual and highly stimulating event the good news is that all of the inputs are available online and you can join a community to continue the debate by visiting:

The symposium was organised by Connected Practice and supported by: the Association of Directors of Social Work, the Scottish Social Services Council, HUSITA, the Social Care Institute for Excellence, the Institute for Research & Innovation in Social Services, the Glasgow School of Social Work, the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver, the Centre for Human Service Technology at the University of Southampton, and by your favourite recruitment magazine CareAppointments.