By Denise Phelps and the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance
An estimated 90% of people around the globe own a mobile phone. Experts predict that there will begin to be a shift toward global smartphone ownership, and as a result, developing nations will invest less in landline infrastructure and instead focus on broadband internet access. Despite this shift, most social workers and others in the social service workforce still do not have access to data in the field. As most practitioners spend their time away from an office or computer, making visits, this is problematic. A recent study in the US found that an overwhelming majority of social workers surveyed thought that mobile technology would help them do their jobs better.
The high rates of mobile phone ownership combined with the predicted increase in smart phone ownership among people in emerging markets has contributed to an increase in projects utilizing mobiles for health (mhealth). Over the last several years, the health and development sectors have been using mobile phones as a tool to support patient well-being, such as helping to diagnose patients, providing remote education to community health workers, monitoring worker performance, and providing patients with important health information and reminders.
While many of these same tools can be utilized in the social services field, they are currently more predominantly used in the U.S. and Western countries and on a much smaller scale than in the health field. The growing importance of technology use within the field is exemplified by the U.S. National Association of Social Work’s creation of standards on ethical use.
It is important to understand how new technology can improve services provided by the workforce as well as how it can make the job easier.
The mhealth movement has shown that there are a variety of ways that both the workforce and its constituents can benefit from the adoption of new mobile technologies. The Alliance’s State of the Social Service Workforce 2016 Report reviews progress over the last five years toward planning, developing and supporting the workforce.
Available, accurate data about both the workforce and the people you are trying to serve is a key part of planning. The lack of real-time data creates gaps in available evidence to make data-based decisions toward strengthening the workforce. The health sector has recently increased emphasis on developing and implementing human resource management systems and linking them to various tools for workers. Open Source Human Resource Information Solutions is one of the platforms being utilized, and some countries, including Malawi and Tanzania, are working on integrating information about the social service workforce into these platforms.
The University of Buffalo in New York, USA, developed an app for social workers that helps keep workers up-to-date on advancements in the field on everything from substance abuse to mental health services. They focus on evidence-based and promising practices that are most relevant in the field.
Ventura County, California, has developed a solution that uses a variety of software to provide child welfare workers with mobile technology to enhance the efficiency, effectiveness and economy of carrying out their tasks.
An SMS text-based data entry system was successfully piloted in Tanzania to help support para-social workers’ efforts to document their work with orphans and vulnerable children (OVC). Para-social workers were able to submit data via text that was automatically entered into the Department of Social Welfare’s OVC database.
Care Community Hub is an mHealth program in Ghana that combines virtual peer-to-peer support with improved connectedness in order to improve motivation and well-being for frontline health workers involved in maternal, newborn and child health service delivery. The program aims to increase data collection and reporting through additional support to workers.
Social service workers around the globe can benefit from mobile programs, which can also be an efficient way to reach currently underserved populations who typically reside in remote areas while increasing real-time data.
How are you using mobile technology to strengthen your work? Join the discussion to share your ideas and successful approaches.