by Andrew Waddington

COVID 19 has created an intensely difficult time for many but overcoming these challenges will see the birth and acceleration of many innovations. While many are facing financial hardship a driver’s license has become the ticket to employment in the world of lockdown. And if like Joe Wicks you and your business are set up to operate and collaborate on digital platforms then you have likely seen a boon in your services; at the very least your service is likely staying afloat.  In the world of healthcare the need for delivering remote services has also accelerated.  Apps that can take your heart rate, blood pressure and even do a breathalyser test to determine if you have the COVID virus are in the works.  Online consultations peeked in China during their lockdown as they are taking off here in the UK. In critical care, for example, an Anesthesiologist in Canada has rigged a system to double capacity on his departments ventilators by following instructions on You Tube. With all these changes and innovations needed to address COVID challenges nurses, as the largest group of healthcare workers, will have an invaluable need to contribute to those innovations.   How does one get involved in being part of an innovation project? Part of contributing to innovation will involve building social networks and in a lockdown world the best way to build a social network is through social media and web-based channels.

As we know from past experiences innovations in one area will likely come from the intersection of ideas from another. Therefore, building networks across disciplines will be essential in being part of COVID innovations.  As Mark Granovetter, eminent sociologist, identified social networks do not have to be well established or long standing to be effective in garnering social capital from them.  Granovetter concluded that having many weeks ties in a social network is more valuable than by having a few solid ones.  Participating in formal events like The Knowledge Transfer Network ‘Virtual Hackathon’ to address COVID challenges (FYI this event it sold out in under a day), or contributing to Nursing Now’s video on lessons learned from the global nursing and midwifery communities to address COVID challenges are examples of formal events that one could participate in online to expand their social networks and contribute to innovations towards COVID-19.  However, using social media channels like Twitter, Linked In, Facebook, Whats App (for example) or writing to blogs will probably yield the best bang for your buck in expanding your social network to build many week ties.  Building a social media presence does not require making frequent deep or insightful posts either.  Researchers testing the well-established model for online learning called the Community of Inquiry (COI) identified that deploying a social presence (one of the key elements of that model) in the online space is the most effective way to build social networks digitally.

Now you’re probably asking what is a social presence in the online space and how does one go about deploying it?  Over the years there have been a few nuanced definitions of social presence with respect to the COI model. All of the definitions are similar and go something like this:

The degree in which people are perceived as real and contribute purposefully within the online community. 

Creating a sense of realness is the first part of this definition in creating social presence is relatively straight forward. Making a post to social media or blog page is one way to identify your realness but even more simply liking a post, re-tweeting a thread, or sharing a comment that was of interest to you are ways that you can identify your realness in the online space.  The second part of the definition of social presence is a bit more nuanced in that it states to do so ‘purposefully within the online community.’  Again, this does not have to be complicated as along as those out there in the world can identify that in some way you share a common community that is a good start. Sharing your crazy cat crazy photos or obsession with red squirrels or how you survived another day of lockdown with your children are all relevant at establishing a social presence, but a piece of advice: keep the socio-emotional elements limited as these can also disrupt group cohesion.  To begin as long your posts can be linked to your specific community that is enough for starting.  Adding a few posts on personal interests is ok, adding ones that fit any group interests is even better.

I will use an example from my life on how this could all fit together.  I am nurse, lecturer, have an interest in simulation and on-line learning, cub scout leader and father and I have different roles within each those communities at different times.  Deploying a social presence within nursing would mean that in some way my profile identifies me as part of the nursing community and that when I make, like or share posts they are somehow linked to the interests of people of that community. However, being able to intersect the ideas among my communities are the places were innovations are created.   Who knows, maybe building red squirrel feeders among cub scouts will alleviate some causes of depression while on lockdown due to COVID-19? Or maybe one of my other followers of red squirrel interests also works as a software developer for Amazon and shared a post on drone delivery that could be applied to collecting lab samples?  As we shared interests in one community about red squirrels we now have grounds for connection about drone delivery and can talk about how that may work in my other community of nursing and healthcare.

So, contributing to COVID-19 innovations as a nurse and midwife is that simple: go out and make connections in as many places as you can in as many ways as you can.  And in this time of lockdown social media and blogging are some of the best tools we have to do that.

Andrew Waddington is an RN and  Associate Lecturer in Nursing at Edinburgh Napier University’s School of Health and Social Care

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