Giving adults with learning disabilities more independence through online resources

TECHKNOW is an online resource supporting adults with learning disabilities and carers find technology to help them be more independent.


Techknow first step - screen shot
TECHKNOW first step - screen shot

It is estimated that 3,800 adults in Cambridgeshire (0.4 per cent of the population) have a learning disability. Cambridgeshire County Council believe that Technology Enabled Care Services (TECS) could be a cost-effective way of providing services, but is currently being underutilised across this cohort. TECS uses a range of technologies (such as telecare, digital and apps) to enable people to have more control over their lives by managing risks, supporting wellbeing and preventing or reducing the need for formal care.

A review of adult social care in November 2017 showed that 24 per cent of learning disability cases provided opportunities where TEC could have been used, but was not. The importance of TEC is forecast to grow as social care requirements for people with learning disabilities in England are expected to increase by 14 per cent by 2030.

The project team focussed on the problem:

How might we show you how to find out more about technology that can help you and make sure you are happy and confident using that technology?

The project team took part in a discovery phase in 2019/20 to explore the needs of their users, better understand the nature of the problem they wished to address and develop a vision for implementation. They were successfully awarded funding for the implementation of the project in November 2020.

Key aims and achievements

  • Increased independence of adults with learning disabilities through greater adoption of technology.
  • £186,760 non-cash benefits over two years though greater use of Technology Enabled Care Services reducing the need for more costly formal care.
  • Increased collaboration and better relationships with IT and across council teams.

Implementation

After undertaking the discovery phase and being successful in their application for implementation phase funding, the project team focussed on developing the resource further, including making an editor to enable easier management of the solution and preparing it for a soft launch in December 2020. The team developed the editor as they wanted to be able to continually iterate the product and make it more sustainable. The editor means that people do not need any technical knowledge to make changes to content. Originally the editor was intended to be an internal tool, but this has been developed into a polished product that can be used more widely.

The implementation phase involved adding four development sprints, enhancing extra functionality to the self-assessment tool, ensuring the accessibility of the product, content workshops, usability testing, product demonstrations and the dissemination of communications to increase awareness of the product.

User research and prototyping

Throughout the implementation phase, the team undertook many activities, engaging with users and developing a prototype of the product. It is important to note that the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic impacted significantly on the team’s ability to conduct user research in the way they had planned. The prototype had already been built towards the end of the discovery phase, the implementation phase was mostly focused on testing this and creating further iterations.

Creation of a co-production group

People are more receptive to change when they have been involved. The project team therefore created a co-production group with key stakeholders and external users to increase buy in.

Two content workshops

These were held with members of the Learning Disability Partnership (LDP) and NHS to come up with the right set of questions, journey categories and resources being displayed on TECHknow. The workshop also focused on ensuring the language being used across the website is easy to understand.

14 usability testing sessions

The users were given two scenarios to test. The team tested the scenarios with three types of user: the service user, their network and members of the team who would be maintaining and using the editor. All testing sessions ran virtually with screen sharing.

Eight product demonstrations

These were with groups and individuals to raise awareness of the product. It is hoped that the early awareness of the solution will ensure buy in from various departments and will allow for maximum uptake.

Stakeholders involved include: Learning disability practitioners, Carers, the Speak Out Council and TEC teams.

Long-term benefits

Throughout the implementation phase, project teams were asked to produce reports forecasting the cash, non-cash, societal and quality benefits. The project team has forecast the following benefits:

Forecast benefits
Benefit Description
Non-cash
  • £186,760. The team has based this forecast on two years of the product being launched and an anticipated increase in TECS referrals of 58% from TECHKNOW, using 19/20 TEC outcomes data to estimate avoided spend
Quality
  • Increased referrals to the TECS team
  • Increased adoption of tech using a person’s own device
  • Increased independence for the service user
  • Greater awareness of TECS
  • Increased communication between council teams
  • Increased service user satisfaction

The project team noted the following unanticipated benefits they saw as a result of taking part in the implementation phase:

  • Improved relationships with council members
  • Improved inter-departmental relationships and communication
  • A high-level of engagement for IT and communications colleagues.

Measuring success

During the discovery phase, the council developed a logic model to guide the implementation phase and to help in quantifying the inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes and impacts which are likely to result from the delivery of this project.

Key outcomes and impact measures:

  • Increased referrals: they will measure the number of referrals to the TEC team monthly using Mosaic (digital social care case management software)

  • Increased use of own devices: they will measure the number of people using their own devices and spend on apps monthly via the TEC team

  • Increased independence: they will measure the independence of individuals through individual studies conducted quarterly with service users and their support network

  • Increased awareness: they will measure the number of attendees after each engagement event and the number of TECHKNOW users monthly via Google Analytics

  • Increased savings: they will measure the savings resulting from TEC adoption for individual service users annually via Mosaic

  • Increased user satisfaction: this will be measured using a satisfaction survey on TECHKNOW and user research. This data will be gathered continuously after launch and at points aligning with iteration development.

Project benefits

  • Buy-in from a range of stakeholders: the project has been getting very positive feedback from a range of departments. They noted that the project has proven that TECHKNOW is a valuable tool and is meeting a previously unmet need.
  • Stakeholder engagement: the team have had really good engagement with stakeholders, and feel that many stakeholders went above and beyond what they were asked to do. Speak Out Council were particularly important in taking part in the usability testing sessions, as well as arranging the testing with service users.
  • Partnership working: the project team highlighted that although they encountered difficulties engaging with certain groups (eg. Learning Disability Partnership), with others, it was more successful than originally hoped.
  • Product development: the project team are proud of the solution they have designed and the way they have engineered it. They have developed a very modern piece of software and worked in an agile way. They have also provided mentoring for developers on the engineering team and there has been a lot of learning for all involved.

Challenges and lessons learned

  • Resourcing issues due to the Covid-19 pandemic: members of the engineering team were required to undertake some urgent Covid-19 related work which affected resourcing and scheduling from the outset
  • Disaggregation of LGSS: in December 2020, LGSS, which developed TECHKNOW, was repatriated to the Peterborough and Cambridgeshire councils. This meant that two developers left the project team and they had to move the solution to a different system – causing a lot of disruption.
  • Continuity of team members: there were significant changes in the team between the discovery phase and implementation phase meaning that certain members had to step-up into a new role. The project team highlighted that this was achieved, and they view this as a strength.
  • Buy-in from the Learning Disability team: this is a known challenge within the organisation and was part of the reason why TECHKNOW was developed. The team suggested that allowing space in the budget for Learning Disability team colleagues could have created an incentive for them to be more involved in the project.

Impact of Covid-19

  • Capacity issues: resource needed to be diverted for urgent Covid-19 related work, causing some scheduling/resourcing issues. Capacity pressures existed before the pandemic, as there were other services being rolled out at the same time.
  • User testing: the project team had originally planned to do all user testing in person, but this had to be moved online due to social distancing. They initially had concerns about building empathy via online testing, but found they were able to get the information they needed.

Future potential

Within Cambridgeshire: the project needs to be handed over to the local authority, with communications colleagues involved. There is scope for TECHKNOW to be useful to a wider cohort, such as older people and children. The team have built the solution in a way that it could be reusable, with a user-friendly content management system. They noted that because it has been designed in an accessible format, it is easily scalable. 
 
The team highlighted that it has already been scaled to a larger cohort than originally intended. Originally, TECHKNOW was intended to be just for the 16-25 cohort but is now for anyone with learning disabilities.
 
Outside Cambridgeshire: as noted above, the team have designed the solution so that it is reusable, all that another local authority would need to use the solution is an Amazon Web Services (AWS) account. The team have written documentation that would help another local authority to understand and set up the solution. They do not believe that there are any barriers to another local authority using the solution. However, another local authority would need to update the solution with relevant information for their area as currently the information is local to Cambridgeshire.