The Future is….? Reporting back on part one of Safeguarding 2.0

**UPDATE**

Here’s a short video of the presentations from our recent event, which covers our findings, our ideas for improving safeguarding using web technology and our next steps. This video tells the story of our project from the seed of the idea to the design of a web tool that can make better use of data, give children and their families a voice, and enhance the offline relationships between all of those involved in keeping a child safe.

We’re now looking for a local authority partner to work with us in the next phase of the project which is about prototyping and testing the tool. If you’re interested, do get in touch to find out more about the next phase: carrie [at] wearefuturegov [dot] com

Safeguarding 2.0 from Arun Marsh on Vimeo.

Here are a slightly trimmed down version of the slides presented at this session, recently shown at NESTA’s Reboot Britain 2010 event:

After the event we spoke to some of the attendees to get their thoughts on what they’d heard and what the future might hold…

Last week it was a packed meeting of partners, professionals and those widely involved in safeguarding who gathered at NESTA at the end of the project’s first phase to hear the final reports and listen to Dominic Campbell of lead partner Futuregov uncharacteristically describe himself as nervous.

“I guess it’s an indication of how important this project is to me,” said Dominic who kicked off the project close to his heart which was  born out of frustration in the  wake of Baby P. “To try to help people on the front line do things differently,” he admitted. “How do you put a safety net in place? That is one of the major challenges. Was there a  technological solution?”

He described the conclusion of some pretty impressive research and original thinking as “fairly modest. We have dipped a toe in the water, listened to what is in people’s heads and focussed their minds on this problem.”  Most of all, he and project lead Carrie Bishop believed there had to be a ‘Next Phase’  building on research by thinkpublic and a tool envisaged by technology partner Headshift which would need a local government partner and financial investment. “But for now go away and spread the word and let us have your feedback,” said Dominic.

There was an air of real anticipation in the room as Headshift’s Felix Cohen and Amy Wagner got down to the heart of the matter – what might work for professionals in the light of  frontline research gathered from social workers by thinkpublic. It was introduced by Carrie as “A solution – not a silver bullet.”  Amy said what was important was to provide a simple way to access data, perhaps a collection of small tools. “Think Big and Build Small,” should be the slogan for technology which allowed information to surface and be identified easily. The initial preferred suggestion was a kind of application for a mobile which would be easy to get out of your pocket and make information easier to understand and share. “What excites me is if we can get a mobile platform,” said Amy while Felix said it would offer a non-adversarial relationship between social worker and client. “It then becomes a much more powerful tool for change.”

Which all followed on neatly from a presentation by Ian Drysdale and Jess O’Keeffe of ThinkPublic that presented the results of their research from professionals on the front line of safeguarding and illustrated it with a telling video of the time Jess spent filming a day in the life of Westminster Council social worker Jeffrey as he met some of the vulnerable families under his care in what has to be one of the most difficult, pressurised, frustrating and ultimately most rewarding jobs in the world. The presentation by Ian revealed some revealing information including the statistic that most social work teams in England are operating at  a 60% staffing level with vacancy rates as high as 30%. “A revolving door,” was how Jeffrey put it. He was looking for smaller case loads so that he could feel he was really doing everything he wanted in a job which despite the hardships he described as “incredibly rewarding.”  He emphasised it was the time allowed to build a relationship between the individual and the social worker which really mattered in the drive to bring security. On the other hand, he said the safeguarding agencies’  inability to share information really drove him nuts.

The question which bothered him was how powerless and paranoid a client can feel when even if they are given access to their file to promote trust, sections are blacked out. How can technology empower them and how can it cut down on the overloading of professionals by ridding them of  pedantic systems which they feel do not allow them to think for themselves and cut down on the vital face to face work?

ThinkPublic’s research pointed to a cut in  IT overload by developing technical priorities so as not to create vast data cemeteries. “Social work has evolved and the technology hasn’t,” said Jasmine Ali from project partner the Local Government Information Unit. “We will have to do more with less when cuts are inevitable.”

Julie Pappacoda, head of Integrated Children’s Information Systems at Westminster Council which was on board  from the start of the project facilitating research from its social work frontline, put the vast IT problem (there are 50 stand-alone systems)  into perspective and said the partnership between social work and technology had never been easy.  While many people put this down to a stubborn resistance to technology, she explained that in fact social workers have been disappointed by bad technology design in the past but are still keen to see tools that will make their jobs easier.  She encouraged;  “How do you eat an elephant? In bite-size pieces.”

Safeguarding 2.0 has taken the first bite – and looks forward to the next.

Taking a step into the future – the end of the beginning

Safeguarding 2.0 – Invitation to a Milestone Event

When: 18 May (9am – 12pm)
Where: NESTA, 1 Plough Place, London. EC4A 1DE

The Safeguarding 2.0 project is now at the end of its first phase.  What started as a round-table discussion at the Local Government Information Unit with practitioners and social web enthusiasts has developed into a journey that has uncovered the technological and behavioural challenges facing safeguarding professionals.  We formed a project team withThinkPublic and Headshift, funded by Nesta and ECDP, and working in partnership Westminster City Council. Our research has led us to some important conclusions about ways to help all those involved in safeguarding children, which the project team is excited to share with you.

As well as presenting the findings of the first phase of the project there will be plenty of discussion throughout, along with a chance to talk about the next phase of the project and opportunities for getting involved.

We hope to see you there – please let us know if you can make it by emailing carrie [dot] bishop [at] futuregovconsultancy [dot] com

WHEN we hosted a round table discussion last August on how web technology might offer new and more effective ways to safeguard vulnerable children,  it would have taken a brave person to stand up and say ‘I know where this is going.’  The truth is no-one at that initial Safeguarding 2.0 meeting did know where the project might lead or what inspiration it might produce.

That was the challenge facing a committed team of passionate people determined to take an exploratory step into the unknown in a bid to discover if new technology could reap real benefits for beleaguered social workers struggling to make the world a safer place for kids.

It was a massive ask and without real enthusiasm from the whole Safeguarding project team, might never have got off the ground. For a start at that first meeting, Futuregov and team partners thinkpublic, Headshift, the Local Government Information Unit, and Westminster Council moved forward without even the assurance that technology could or would offer any sort of an answer. The solution, we freely admitted, might be something entirely different.

But as the project progressed, with particular thanks to the in-depth research of thinkpublic who listened and talked to social workers and other professionals,  it became clear that some sort of technology to help everyone involved in a safeguarding team to communicate better was the way ahead. Especially if it enabled the whole story of a child to be more easily recorded and heard and – vitally – acted upon.

Now in a relatively short time, the first phase of the initial project sparked by Safeguarding 2.0 is nearing its final stages and the ideas, thoughts and plans are being pulled together to formulate what imaginative piece of technology could help those struggling against a backdrop of one high profile tragedy after another to cope with the increasingly heavy burden of safeguarding children.  The team’s findings will be presented at an event on 18 May at Nesta, to which all are welcome, which will show what we’ve learned and what we think could help safeguarding practitioners.

What the project has been determined to do is not to foist any new piece of technology on social workers. The real aim has always been to discover what they need and want as well as asking what they believe are the gaps in their present armoury which need plugging. In other words, the technologists at Headshift needed to know what they produced was not only needed, but wanted too.

With the first phase nearing completion, the project team can see that a second phase is viable. The project inevitably has only scratched the surface of providing better communication in what has to be one of the most desperately difficult problems to solve. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, is the often-quoted slogan. But in the light of social services departments such as Birmingham’s being judged ‘unfit for purpose‘, there is no room to judge that something, somewhere doesn’t need fixing. So phase one of Safeguarding 2.0 is merely a step along the way to offer web technology as a tool to prevent mistakes and ultimately save lives.

The challenge of phase two will be for the project team to develop an innovative prototype – but that as everyone knows will need funding from not only a local authority with a stake in the outcome, but from grants and perhaps a partnership with a technology provider like a mobile phone manufacturer.

It only remains at this first-step stage at the end of the beginning for the project team to make its final report pointing up the exciting possibilities ahead. One small step for safeguarding… but a small step leading to a future of endless possibilities.

Photo: tymesynk on Flickr