Guest post: Safety by removing safety measures?

Photo: Cosmic_Spanner

This is a guest post from Safeguarding 2.0 board member Johnnie Moore

Sitting in on Safeguarding 2.0 meetings, I’m struck by how those involved in safeguarding seem overburdened with reporting systems.  This is the impact of well-intentioned but time-consuming procedures introduced in the wake of past failings.  A lot of time appears to be spent in meetings with the aim of improving co-operation between agencies, yet there’s not much evidence to show that this is producing results and many in the system complain of wasting time.

I was interested to read this in Lord Laming’s latest effort: “However, good examples of joint working too often rely on the goodwill of individuals.”  Spoken like a true bureaucrat.  It’s as if goodwill is some optional extra in a system of human care.  A tiresome bias in the game of inventing the perfect system for human control.  I suspect that goodwill is the most important thing keeping the system going, and those in power should be focussing rather more on what will increase it.

It makes me wonder what Hans Monderman would suggest.  Monderman is the Dutch traffic planner who pioneered the notion of shared space for traffic management.  He found that you could improve road safety in many contexts by removing a great many of the signs and paraphenalia normally associated with road safety. It seems that without traditional safeguards, human beings become more aware of their and others’ vulnerabilities and operate more safely. Would social care improve if some of the Lamingesque procedures were removed?

I also wonder what other organisations have wrestled more successfully than ours with delivering safety and care by finding effective rules and regs but also giving people the discretion and time to do satisfying and innovative work?  Could they have some insights to share?

Guest Post: Safeguarding2.0 – making children safer

This is a re-posting of Safeguarding 2.0 steering group member Matthew Rees‘ original blog post

I’d like to tell you about one of the best meetings that I have ever been to; and it was for a good cause too.

Safeguarding 2.0 is an initiative, seeded by FutureGov, that is looking to see how/if web2.0 technologies can be used to help make children safer. Playing chess on Facebook is great fun but can we do something really useful with the same technologies?!

I got involved in the initial scoping workshop, thanks to a Twitter friend (a twend?!), back in August and last week we returned to the LGiU to get an update on the project and to suggest some future directions.

Around the table we had an impressive mix of people involved in different aspects of safeguarding and/or web2.0 and it was this mix that made the meeting so good. I judge the success of a meeting by how much I say (am I engaged and contributing?) and how many notes I take (am I learning?) and this scored heavily on both points. One of the purposes of writing this article is to try and crystallize some of those learnings.

Scoping the problem

As a consultant, my natural instinct is to draw diagrams and preferably a 2×2 matrix but so far I’ve not managed to get below 3×3 when describing the key factors.

  1. The child’s needs are clearly central to the debate and here I suggested that we should invert the familiar needs triangle that shows the neediest children at the top where the triangle is thinnest. If we invert it then the thick end mirrors the physical case file and shows that the needs (and risks) are greater and more agencies are involved with more interventions.
  2. The age of the child is important as that drives things like the balance of input from the child and the family and the agencies involved, e.g. schools.
  3. There are a range of stakeholders involved that goes something like Child > Family > Peers > Professionals > Community (not convinced that’s a linear progression though) and each of these plays different roles and so could be helped in different ways. For example, professionals could benefit from better ways of sharing information and the community could benefit from being able to raise concerns.

Insights

A number of light bulbs flashed for me during the meeting, this is just some of them.

Story telling is what matters. and face to face communication is needed in order to tell the full story about the more complex cases, notes in a case file won’t do it.

Most, if not all, of our processes and technologies are based on our bureaucratic view of the world which often does not match the client’s. For example, we insist on formal meetings at set times whereas they prefer to communicate by text message when the mood is right for them.

Spreadsheets and reports from IT systems present a flat view of the world (unlike the bulging case file). There is a need to use some clever data visualization to better encapsulate a case.

If we can do FixMyStreet, why can’t we do FixMyCommunity?

We need to find a way to include positive messages in any improved communications. If we just report concerns and bad observations then we’ll get swamped in negativity. If a child at risk comes to school beaming and saying what a great weekend they had then we need to capture this too.

Networks are more efficient that hierarchies in dealing with complex situations but you need some sort of hierarchy to get accountability.

Social Workers have made the choice of working with people, not computers, and we should understand and respect this.

Some possible solutions

A few specific ideas came to mind in the discussion but these are just scratching at the surface of what could be done. Some of these are quick and easy whereas others are much more difficult and would probably require Government support.

An iPhone app for social workers could keep track of their contacts for each case and their appointments etc. while out of the office.

A Twitter-live application (there had to be one!) to enable low-level conversations between professionals so that they can share the sort of gossip they would have if they shared a workplace, possibly with some sort of read-only-once technology to address data protection concerns.

A self-help website for older children along the lines of PatientsLikeMe (this TEDtalk shows how it works).

A FixMyCommunity website that allows the general public to notify authorities of concerns they have for vulnerable people, young or old. Obviously there are lots of ways that this could be abused so it’s not an easy option but the benefits could be great.

Virtual meetings (chat, video, text, etc.) to enable children to engage with professionals in a way and at a time that suits them.

Story analysis (this may be what SenseMaker does) to determine patterns from stories and so improve risk analysis.

End note

I think that this project has a good chance of delivering real and important benefits and I am very pleased and a little proud to be associated with it.

Image: three15bowery

Safeguarding 2.0 – the story so far

Round the meeting table

WHEN it comes to meetings, there are (yawn) meetings – and then there are (Ooh!) meetings. The session at the LGiU on Friday at the half way stage of Safeguarding 2.0 turned out to be one of those rare inspirational MEETINGS worthy of big, bold capital letters. Everyone round the table agreed  the gathering to review the project’s progress  was buzzing loudly with hope and enthusiasm.

Right from the start, ideas bounced off the walls faster than Andy Murray’s blockbuster serves and there was some passionate pulling and tugging across the table over the aims and achievements of the project’s ambition to find potential solutions on how to better protect vulnerable children using the power of the web.

The discussion threw up plenty of debate on what had gone before and provided some fascinating paths for the project to explore in the weeks ahead. That included a novel idea from blogger Johnnie Moore who suggested unpicking the complicated organisation and intricate thinking behind something as fascinating and unrelated as a Formula One race team might throw up a  winning chequered flag solution to cut through the “horrible regulation” surrounding social work!  Could it be that the more we have tried to put things right in safeguarding, the more we have created confusion? So taking everything back-to-basics might indeed be the Holy Grail for social workers desperate to spend time with needy families, but  sinking under the burden of forms, systems and tick boxes?

Blogger and school governor Matthew Rees was moved in a post-meeting blog post, to gleefully report that this was one of the best meetings he had been to in many a year. Undeniably what came across loud and clear  from the Safeguarding 2.0 research is that social workers have a massive workload and a palpable fear of anything from outside which could compromise confidentiality and damage relationships with their clients. The feedback too from professionals already mistrustful of technology was that the job was busy enough and they “really didn’t need another ‘gadget’ to work with.”

That was the quandry everyone at the meeting was left to ponder. What piece of technology would, could, should make a difference to ensuring Baby Peter failings never happen? Or as FutureGov’s Dominic Campbell admitted, would the project discover the real solution was no piece of technology at all?

The Safeguarding 2.0 project does take one firm standpoint though. It is important when tragedies happen we never shrug our shoulders and think nothing can be done because the problem is too huge.

Given that firm foothold, the halfway report from project leader Carrie Bishop of FutureGov clearly laid out the story so far on how Safeguarding 2.0 is working to discover what, if any,  web technology can help join up the vital dots to help complete the whole revealing picture of a  vulnerable child’s life in a vulnerable family and so prevent another Baby Peter tragedy.

She emphasised that from the very beginning it was felt the project could throw up  everything – or nothing. That was the challenge at the start-up meeting which sparked huge enthusiasm. Since then FutureGov has gathered together a committed team from the LGiU, Think Public, Headshift and Barnardo’s which undaunted by the mammoth task ahead,  moved the project forward to take a step into the unknown in a bid to  uncover the problems facing professionals and families and build possible solutions.

The project began mid-January with key to the work being the co-operation of  social workers which team member Thinkpublic researchers knew was vital in their bid to build a clear picture of their hectic working day and what innovative piece of technology might contribute to making it click better and more efficiently into place.

So herograms and thanks all round at this point to everyone in Westminster City Council who have come on board to share their thoughts and help the project understand the work challenges they face every day.  It became clear at an early stage that the  social workers Thinkpublic researchers  talked to believe confidentiality is paramount in their work. Those of us not involved with such  acutely sensitive work might be forgiven for believing when professionals seal a  case conference room  to the extent of covering over a glass door panel to protect intimate  information projected onto a wall, we are moving into the realms of  Spooks. Also, surely it is a measure of how technology is regarded as ‘unsafe’ that faxes and paper files are considered okay, but email information and the like are seen as easy to penetrate.  Perhaps too, a  bunker mentality is inevitable among social workers who fear the ever-present glare of public criticism particularly from a tabloid press rushing to blame in the aftermath of failings like Baby Peter.

The mistrust of technology and outside agencies turned into one of  the truly fascinating debates at the meeting with Thinkpublic‘s Ian Drysdale admitting it was taking time to win the trust of busy professionals. He had hoped to show a film of a day in the life of a social worker, but time and opportunity had proved elusive. But as the LGiU‘s   Jasmine Ali encouragingly pointed out, the problems were not insurmountable as the growing co-operation with Westminster Council proved.

Ian Drysdale presenting

Matthew Rees said social workers were proving to be afraid of “something which isn’t happening” when it came to stolen data captured by technology.  He believed the initial challenge faced by Safeguarding 2.0 was to discover how social workers could share “day-to-day stuff” –  the low level intuitive feeling that something is wrong which when collated into a pattern, might  prove vital. “Almost the Twitter of passing on information,” he said.

Amy Wagner,  head of projects at team partner Headshift , saw the challenge as “how can we add to what is being done already. If something doesn’t make it onto the spreadsheet it is lost. Perhaps we can explore ways to catching that data?” That was echoed in three salient points by Carrie Bishop. One; that story-telling by social workers requires input. Two; easy visualisation of  data “more about making sense of the madness.” And three; how to capture low-level intelligence.

So what could be the answer? The halfway report recognises there may not be a definitive answer in a highly complex working environment of relationships and personalities. It also believes much more time is needed to build up trust with social workers to make testing any ‘tool’ smoother.

What would be the ideal at this stage seems to bes a mobile application which would support informal communication and provide visualisation of existing data.

So at the end of an exciting and productive meeting between team and partners, what are the next steps? Well, the project hopes to begin to scope a tool to be built and tested as part of a second phase while continuing to add to an important research base.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on the project so please get in touch if you’d like to be involved – leave us a comment or contact carrie [dot] bishop [at] futuregovconsultancy [dot] com

Meet the team: thinkpublic

team members

The Safeguarding 2.0 project is being delivered by a group of organisations that passionately believe in the power of the web to help improve public services.  FutureGov, the LGiU, thinkpublic, Headshift and Barnardo’s are all working together to see how this idea can be applied to the field of safeguarding, and over the next few weeks we’ll be introducing you to each organisation in turn.

In the early stages of Safeguarding 2.0, thinkpublic is deep into the groundwork of grassroots research. This essential work to find out what social workers need and want is being spearheaded by Ian Drysdale who’s already come up with some fascinating data thanks to co-operation from staff at Westminster City Council who have put aside their understandable and natural reticence to recount with utter honesty their views on what would make a real difference to their work in the field of child safeguarding.

Already some interesting shared facts have emerged which will be translated by Ian into a short film featuring a day in the life of a Westminster social worker, and that will be backed by a written report detailing the views expressed by his colleagues on what changes to formal and informal systems will help them do their job better. That will be presented next Friday at an eagerly awaited meeting of the whole team and interested parties.

So already the machine is moving. Slowly and carefully as it must, at first. The insights gained through thinkpublic’s work will be coupled with the expertise and inspiration of technology experts Headshift,  which we hope will lead to the bright spark of an idea of how social media  can be used as a tool to help social workers.

We’re keen to hear ideas and thoughts about our approach and work so far, as well as possible solutions so as ever please do post comments or email the project manager (carrie [dot] bishop [at] futuregovconsultancy [dot] com)