Frontline voices: Laura McInerney – The Connected Society

Laura McInerney /   June 29, 2015 at 8:32 PM 1,883 views

In the fourth post in this series on voices from the frontline, Laura McInerney reflects on the possibilities of a ‘Connected Society’ of teachers and other professionals helping to inform better policy – and notes where this is already starting to happen. Laura McInerney taught for 6 years in East London and is now studying for a PhD in Education Policy Analysis sponsored by a Fulbright Award. Additionally she writes for think-and-action tank LKMCo and at her own blog When David Cameron spoke of a “Big Society” he invoked imagery of church hall tea parties and jumble sales. It was cute, but not exactly revolutionary. Far more exciting for politics is the possibilities that a “Connected Society” could bring. Imagine this: Once a week crowds of frontline workers all descend onto a social network, say Facebook or Twitter, and give their views on what is working in their public service, what the problems are and what they need to overcome them. Imagine the wealth of information these online conversations would give to policymakers otherwise locked in their ivory towers and desperate to get the input of workers who might make their policies actually work. Except, you don’t have to imagine such conversations – they’re already happening. Every Thursday night for the past two years educators have met on social media platform Twitter to discuss their views on all manner of issues – homework, new schools, GCSE reform – under the hashtag #ukedchat. So popular did the networking become it has spawned more nuanced versions: Sunday evenings now involve #sltchat for senior leaders or #gtie for Gifted & Talented co-ordinators in Ireland (yes, things have got that particular!) Undoubtedly these sorts of outpourings must be happening in other public service professions but what’s annoying is how little these working people’s voices are used by many policymakers in government. For a long time it has been easy for policy writers to complain that it was ‘impossible’ to involve front-line workers in anything other than arms-length consultation. “They’re always busy” the policymakers whine, “They’re all in their classrooms, or at court appointments, or holding the hands of the siiiick.” I’ll admit, getting social workers, police officers, teachers, nurses (and so on) into consultation is difficult due to the time constraints of their jobs. But with the advent of – wait for it – the internet this problem of constrained time is easier to overcome. In preparation for a recent LKMCo blog I put one tweet out asking for teachers to complete a survey on their views about education policy. That one tweet led to nearly 200 responses in 2 days. Surveys, online forums, twitter discussions, policy delphis – all can be completed online for the purpose of getting frontline workers views and yet I have seen them happening…well, never. Thankfully the Connected Society is not solely about policymakers soliciting frontline workers opinions only when it is convenient to them. In actual fact, the true power of the Connected Society will be its ability to get government listening to the opinions of workers even when it isn’t being asked for. In education a group of tweeting Headteachers recently formed an online group, calling themselves “The Headteacher’s Roundtable”. First it started as a Twitter account – @headsroundtable – then it became a website. Next they put out a survey for people’s ideas about GCSE reform. Within just a few days the group were meeting with Junior Education Minister Liz Truss and having their views at least listened to, though whether they will affect negotiations is still to be seen. Campaigns in education have also involved gaining information through Freedom of Information requests (via the excellent Or blogging lists of questions that should be asked in Parliamentary Question Sessions and then tweeting relevant MPs the list so they can ask the questions frontline workers actually need answers to. Individually none of these actions is earth-shattering, but by using the internet in this way frontline workers will cumulatively better hold the government to account than in the past. The Big Society was a great soundbite and a good start for promoting volunteerist spirit. Now it is time for frontline workers to take up the mantle and use the Connected Society to actually create, implement and scrutinise in order to get better social policies. Courtesy of Laura McInerney

If you’re a frontline practitioner or service user and you’d be interested in contributing to this series, please do get in touch with us at: [email protected]

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