Working Together Better through technology: Brighton take the Patchwork approach to supporting families

Anyone who has spent any time working in local government, and particularly safeguarding children, will be all too aware of the challenges faced by professionals in trying to stitch together cumbersome local public services to solve complex social problems. Umpteen different organisations each one with their own priorities, unique cultures and sets of rules and regulations. None able to solve these challenges on their own, all equally burdened by the weight of policy, structure and bureaucracy that often (mostly) prevents them from operating in the most effective and efficient way possible.

Our background in local government combined with a geeky enthusiasm for the power of the web, made us think that, in a world of real time communications, web technology could be used to improve information sharing and create the space for human relationships – offline as well as online.

Brighton

Photo: Suburning

Over the course of two years, having been encouraged and guided by a diverse and generous group of experts who responded to our call for help, we set about testing our theory that design and digital technology might provide a route to solving the communications challenges faced by practitioners and their clients.

With the support of early partners NESTA (who continue to be loyal supporters of the project) and after some very enlightening insight in Westminster, we have spent the last year researching, designing, developing, prototyping, testing and implementing our technology supported approach to service change in child protection with our partners Lichfield District Council.

While based in Lichfield, the project was also supported by Staffordshire County Council and others like South Staffs.  They have shown their continued commitment by recently investing in the project along with NESTA and the Nominet Trust.

In Lichfield we have spent time working closely with practitioners, ensuring that we understood their needs. Through this process, we have been able to start small, building a prototype web app and approach to change that supports the most pressing needs of those people looking to support families in Lichfield and beyond.

Patchwork provides an opportunity to better connect professionals (and soon their clients), surfacing the often large and opaque network of professional support around a family and ensuring those professionals have a means by which to find one another and connect. By better joining up the dots, Patchwork improves information sharing within and between agencies by supporting better human relationships. The implementation of this web app is supported by a change team working hand in hand with councils to map out current practices and move towards more joined up ways of working.

Today we are kicking off the next stage of the Patchwork project with our new partners Brighton and Hove City Council. Very much in the spirit of the open approach to both technology and service change, again we will be working closely with Brighton to understand the needs of practitioners and their clients and build on top of the current app to best meet their needs.

This is the beauty of an open approach to web development and service change. Where once technology was fixed and change pre-packaged, we are now able to listen, learn and iterate to make sure that the approach is right and the impact on service outcomes greatest, as people feel they have a stake in the technology and an interest in helping to make it a success.

This morning Brighton & Hove Chief Executive John Barradell will address a 70 person multi-agency gathering to launch the Working Better Together Patchwork project, asking staff for their support in designing and delivering next generation children’s services.

Programme Manager Paul Brewer is up for the challenge. “The interviews we did with practitioners in the lead-up to this project made it very clear that many things get in the way of working together effectively with families. It’s difficult to know who’s involved and build the network up.  It’s even harder to maintain good quality multi-agency networks and ensure well co-ordinated support and intervention.

We believe our front line staff are best placed to design new and effective ways to work together, which will be supported by the Patchwork tool we will help shape.  We will design, build and test the tool together with FutureGov and will place an emphasis in the project on assessing benefits to front line practice and outcomes for children.  We believe FutureGov’s exploratory and collaborative design approach is the way forward and presents far less risk to the organisation compared to the large systems procurements of the past.”

For Patchwork, today is an important next step in starting to scale our approach and technology, expanding its use around the country as a movement of practitioners committed to changing the way child protection works. Looking to move beyond the difficult times of the last few years, coming together to refresh ways of working and benefit from the best of what the web has to offer. We hope that Patchwork can act as an example of how design and digital technology can be used to create public services fit for the twenty-first century.

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