Sharing the challenges… and working towards some solutions in Brighton & Hove

Well it’s been a busy couple of months of planning and engagement in Brighton & Hove, which has given me plenty to share but little time to do so! So what’s been going on?

As in Lichfield, we’re taking a open and collaborative approach in Brighton & Hove. Having designed a prototype app, we want to work with practitioners to refine and develop it. So I’ve been out and about, meeting front-line staff to introduce them to Patchwork – getting them to think through how it may or may not meet their needs – and what more we can do in the future to make sure we are supporting them to do their jobs even better.

Responses have been positive, with many feeding back that Patchwork would fix a problem for them. It was a particularly gratifying moment when I was sat in a meeting of pastoral staff in schools listening to somebody explain that all they really needed was an easily accessible, visual picture network of people that support a child, complete with contact details. Just what Patchwork provides!

But this project isn’t just about technology. It’s also about service design – understanding how technology complements or supports best working practices. And so the last couple of months has been spent trying to understand the context of multi-agency working. How do practitioners here currently work? How do they share their involvement with a case? How can technology improve behaviours? And what might need to change?

These conversations have been incredibly helpful in understanding the current landscape – both good and bad. But what’s also become apparent is that services are not always aware of the common challenges that they all face in communicating with one another.

Workshop with front-line practitioners

Based on this feedback, we felt is was time to bring together practitioners, from across services and agencies – children’s centres, youth services, housing, health visitors, school nurses, community safety, police, probation – to surface and share these challenges, outside of their silos. So we recently held a workshop with over 65 frontline practitioners to start discussing these issues openly.

An activity about how practitioners share their involvement with a child, revealed interesting responses about the ease of establishing contact and developing relationships with other services:

“There are issues around finding out who the officer is for a given family”

“Difficult to establish who is working with a client. Clients can be unclear who is their worker and from what agency they come”

“Their relationship is very important to us. But we are not informed or contacted about service involvement with a client”

“I’ve had children in my care who were on the child protection register and I didn’t even know about it”

“Other agencies value their input more than they value the input of other agencies”

“The fact there they have a relationship with a client is sensitive information in itself”

Allowing practitioners to share some of their struggles openly was important and cathartic. It helps us reach a collective understanding of the challenges and is a necessary step to an acceptance of shared solutions. With these challenges in mind, we looked at what Patchwork might have to offer. Gez, Patchwork’s Product Manager, gave a walk through of the prototype app.

As expected, there was no shortage of questions and suggestions,

“can you limit information that some people are able to see?”

“can you see other practitioner’s profiles?”

“are you able to group family members together/see familial relationships?”

“ are you able to see how recent contact is between a client and a practitioner?”

“is there a timeline of involvement with the child?”

“could you add in task list and assign tasks to practitioners involved in case?”

“is there an email notification every time something changes on one of your cases?”

Lots for Gez to take away and think about for V1, while the rest of the team gets on top of our next steps.

Turning the app live! So the next key milestone is to turn the app live! We’re hoping once practitioners use it for real, they’ll be able to tell us more of what they want, and what they don’t. It’ll also give us a better sense of the user experience of Patchwork. The app will be turned live late in February and tested throughout March and early April.

Working through information governance issues. We’ve spoken before about our issues with information governance. The pilot in Brighton & Hove is helping us come to a clear and unequivocal understanding of what is and isn’t allowed.

Legal advice has established that it is appropriate for Patchwork to allow practitioners to share their involvement with a child’s case without explicit consent, to others who are providing support to a child (except if sensitive information is being shared). For some services, for example substance misuse and mental health, disclosing their contact with a child is problematic as the involvement is sensitive information in and of itself.

These services have therefore been precluded from the testing phase while we continue to work through these issues. Over the next couple of months we’ll want to really get to grips with this and work closely with those services and consider how Patchwork could evolve to accommodate them.

Working with children and families. A final important strand will be talking to children and families. Practitioners have fed back that they want to be reassured that children and families feel OK about Patchwork. It’s a concern for us too, so we’re going to be speaking to some families about how they feel about the people working with them using Patchwork to help co-ordinate their support better.

So, all in all, a productive and constructive start but lots more to do!