How a board game is helping social care staff implement personalisation

A board game that helps staff, providers and service users understand personalisation has succeeded in changing the culture in some organisations, reports Louise Hunt

 Leicestershire Council uses the Whose Shoes? game to train adult care staff in personalisation. Pictured (from left) are Simon Carnall, Paul Lowis, Sarah Wigley amd Juliet Heaton

A board game that helps staff, providers and service users understand personalisation has succeeded in changing the culture in some organisations, reports Louise Hunt


Project name: Whose Shoes? Putting People First board game.

Aims and objectives: To help people understand how personalisation affects different groups – staff, managers, service users, providers and commissioners – to help people in different roles to work together more effectively.

Numbers of users: It has had 83 customers nationwide.

Cost of project: Typically, £400 per half day workshop, including one copy of the game.

Contact: Gill Phillips at Nutshell Communications 

The personalisation agenda means different things to users, staff and managers, and those differences may result in conflicts that can impede progress.

One approach to tackling this problem has been the development of a game that allows all parties to gain a better understanding of each others’ perspectives and, hopefully, to find solutions.

The Whose Shoes? Putting People First game is the brainchild of Gill Phillips, a former performance improvement manager at Coventry Council, who, as director of consultancy Nutshell Communications, now delivers personalisation workshops based around the game to councils, providers, user groups, charities and universities.

Before launching the game in 2009, she spent time learning about the personalisation agenda from the perspectives of four groups: service users and carers, staff, managers and providers and commissioners. The game is based on the issues that arose from this research, which are shown as statements reflecting the experiences of the four groups on 36 playing cards.

The point of the game is to build a “path to personalisation” but this can only be fulfilled through contributions from each of the four groups, underscoring the collaborative nature of the game, and personalisation.

Whether the game is played in full, or the cards used as catalysts for discussion, its aim is to encourage “a joined-up approach so people are not just considering their own perspectives”, says Phillips, adding: “It has really worked in terms of understanding why the agenda is different for each group and has helped to improve understanding of each others’ experiences.”

By tackling what may be contentious issues through a game, players feel safe to speak out and this has led to improvements in the way personalisation is implemented, says Phillips. “It’s a culture change tool that creates an atmosphere that allows everybody to have a voice. You can’t say at the beginning what will come out of it. People need to have an open mind.”

She gives the example of a workshop held with commissioners at Birmingham Council and managers of a home care provider, who wanted to provide users with greater flexibility by enabling them to forego appointments in their care plan and bank the time to use later.

During a lively debate it was revealed that the council’s invoicing procedure for paying the provider prevented it from doing this. As a result, provider and commissioner agreed to an alternative invoicing mechanism to allow more flexibility and a stronger partnership was formed.

Whose Shoes? is also proving a success with user and carer groups. In the Yorkshire and Humber region, for example, it has been used in a series of sessions, funded by Skills for Care, to inform users and carers about the personalisation agenda.

Barbara Dalby, a carer and former social worker who co-ran the workshops, says: “Those participating who already had commissioned packages of care from agencies used this as an opportunity to compare the service they were currently receiving with the autonomy, independence and quality of life provided through having [a direct payment] and employing a personal assistant. There were quite a few who, after the sessions, were intent on contacting their social workers to enquire whether they too could have a direct payment.”

The game’s reach has spread further to aid the next generation of social workers’ understanding of personalisation. Ali Gardner, a senior social work lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, where the first module on personalisation was introduced, uses Whose Shoes? to invite local practitioners to work with students. She says: “As people relax, they let go of pre-conceived ideas and start to play around with new concepts and become quite creative. It is fun, non-threatening but very challenging. It’s a great teaching tool.”

Phillips is continuing to develop ways to share the learning from the Whose Shoes? workshops, and is aiming to include more case studies on her website. Her advice to those using the game is: “Be clear from the start on what you want to get from it. One of the simplest outcomes to achieve is relationship-building. It is also important that people follow up on the issues that have been raised and can use the learning for an action plan.”

How the game works

● There are four players or teams.

● The aim of the game is for players to collaboratively build the “path to personalisation” represented by seven blocks in the centre of the board, each representing a different outcome for users, such as improving choice and control.

● Outcomes are met by placing four coloured tiles on each block, representing four different constituencies in social care: users and carers (blue); staff (yellow); managers (red); providers and commissioners (green).

● Players travel round the edge of the board landing on footprints colour coded in the same way.

● When players land on a footprint they pick up a card of the same colour, carrying a statement reflecting the perspective of the relevant role.

● Each statement is read out to generate discussion and cards also carry instructions to put down or take away from the board a tile of the relevant colour, thus building – or impeding – the path to personalisation.

How Leicestershire uses the game

Leicestershire Council uses the Whose Shoes? game extensively to train adult social care staff in personalisation.

Learning development advisers Sarah Wigley and Juliet Heaton say staff have responded well to the game because of its non-threatening approach that suits different learning styles and its ability to hone in on different perspectives.

Says Wigley: “It makes you take the stance of [people in other roles]. It is really interactive and gives everybody equal footing, which is especially important when used in mixed groups.”

The cards have also prompted staff to change ways of working. For example, one card said: ‘As a social worker we are able to share problems and extend examples of good practice’. “That made us think ‘have we got good peer support networks for social workers? ‘Now we have regular meetings to ensure we are properly implementing the agenda,” she adds.

Heaton believes the game has helped staff to gain a better understanding of how to deliver personalisation. “What is really valuable is the opportunity to explore personalisation from a service users’ perspective.”

Around 100 social care staff have been trained in the game and it has since been used in the wider community with service user and carer groups and providers. It is also regularly leant out for team meetings and training days.

“The game has definitely had an impact on how personalisation is being implemented,” adds Wigley. “We have completed roll out [of personalisation], and I think having used [Whose Shoes?] before the official training has helped to speed things up, which has made our lives easier.”

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This article is published in the 10 November 2011 edition of Community Care under the headline “Play the personalisation game”

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