Making Patchwork Happen in Brighton and Hove

Thanks go to Paul Brewer, Head of Performance for Children’s Services in Brighton and Hove Council, for writing this guest post for us.  As well as leading on all things performance for Children’s Services, Paul has also been leading the Patchwork project in Brighton and Hove.  

He has been involved with the project from the very beginning and here he shares some of his thinking about what it takes to make Patchwork happen on the ground.

 Patchwork is not a technology project…

Patchwork is an incredibly interesting and challenging project to work on. I remember back at Brighton & Hove’s launch event in November 2011, Carrie from Futuregov put up a slide of a road stretching out to the horizon, talking about how Patchwork was not a technology project.  Well, that was so true!

It is about connections across agencies

In the period since, I’ve seen some amazing connections made between different practitioner groups, deep discussion about the nature of multi-agency working and growing confidence around the need to get on and share information to help provide the best care.

Patchwork has also helped bring support services from different organisations together. Having a real thing to discuss and implement has been really galvanizing and helped lots of people move away from abstractions. It really hasn’t been easy at times, but I guess that’s when you know something is helping you change and make breakthroughs.

Because Patchwork is about creating the professional network in an area, the stakeholder map is large and varied. We’ve done a lot of work in Brighton & Hove engaging with organisations by finding ways to explain Patchwork that make the most sense to them, and this seems to have worked. We have a satisfyingly long and varied list of engaged organisations and practitioners.

It’s been really helpful to…

Ask people what benefits they see arising from Patchwork really helps. They can think about their own work and realize for themselves how Patchwork could help.  This approach has also helped us figure out which groups of organisations should go live at the same time. For example, we’re pulling together a bunch of organisations that deal with adult mental health and substance misuse, both statutory and community and voluntary sector.

Spending time with the different stakeholders within organisations has been invaluable.  It’s not enough to get the support of only the Chief Executive, although that is very helpful! It’s been really beneficial to give others dedicated time, and listen to their perspectives and address their concerns.

Avoiding forcing Patchwork on people by making it “mandatory” has also been the right approach. Forcing things through doesn’t work in the long run.  We’re doing lots to encourage use and are making sure certain types of involvement (such as children with a child protection social worker) can always be found, to help make the benefits really clear.

And in a nutshell

I think the engagement journey in Brighton & Hove has been about confidence in the Patchwork idea and a respectful but unswerving persistence.  Seeing people move from skepticism or cynicism and into trust and enthusiasm is amazing.  And I think this come from finding ways to give the thing away, so that people can feel it can be theirs too.  Their own “no-brainer”.

Oh, and being able to talk very precisely about the law and privacy definitely helps.

If you want to know more about the Brighton and Hove experience you can check out their website, or contact us here at FutureGov and we will be happy to help.  It would also be great to hear whether you enjoyed this post as we line up some more guest posts for Patchwork.

Patchwork in the Munro Review and new Safeguarding Statutory Guidance released

Munro Review Progress Report

Almost immediately after the elections in 2010, the government announced a review of child protection headed up by Professor Eileen Munro with the aim of conducting a review of the system

“with a focus on strengthening the social work profession, to put them into a better position to make well-informed judgements based on up-to-date evidence in the best interests of children and free from unnecessary bureaucracy and regulation.”

We have welcomed the review throughout and worked to share the learning from the Patchwork project wherever possible as we work towards using technology to better safeguard children by improving relationships between practitioners and families, helping to join up frontline services and practitioners for better outcomes.

So we were very pleased to see Patchwork mentioned in the most recent report back from the review Progress report: Moving towards a child centred system, published a year after the final Munro Report. Patchwork features in Professor Sue White’s submission to the review (thanks to our partners Brighton and Hove City Council) that looks specifically at the future of case management and the use of technology in child protection [page 41 of this PDF in case you want to take a look]:

“whilst it will always be necessary to have systems for storing documents, recording events and decisions and gather data, it is important that the use of technology does not become reduced to these important but rather static functions. There is growing evidence of smaller scale, pilot design projects. It would be useful to illustrate this with an exemplar…” [insert Patchwork case study here]

Importantly Professor White also points to an open source future for ICS (Integrated Children’s System):

“There is a compelling case for an open source project for children’s and indeed adult social care. We need to harness the design expertise of the sector and produce a sustainable adaptable, iterative system with potential to increase creative capacity and technological expertise in the sector. The current government are rightly championing ‘open source’ technology.”

Good to hear we’re on the right lines then…

We’ll be continuing to follow and contribute to the work of the review wherever possible, making sure Patchwork continues to play a role in supporting future improvements in child protection practice. Watch this space.

New Safeguarding Statutory Guidance

In other news, the Department of Education have published important new Safeguarding Statutory Guidance for consultation. One for everyone to get involved in. Read the consultation in full here or here’s a short introduction from the Children’s Minister Tim Loughton for those of you who prefer the video version.

Patchwork goes live in Brighton & Hove!

This week the prototype Patchworkapp has gone live in Brighton & Hove! This initial trial will last more than 10 weeks and involve just over 100 practitioners from a range of local authority children’s services, housing, community health services and neighbourhood policing.In time, we’ll also be seeking to recruit test users from general practices, schools, fire and rescue and the community and voluntary sector as well, as we work through our information sharing and security to do list.

This pilot period has a number of aims:

  • to test the usability of the newly redesigned app, taking feedback on both versions on the app from Staffordshire and Brighton to better inform the next version of the system (v.1.0.0.).
  • to get practitioners to assess the potential benefits of Patchwork in their daily working lives
  • to get feedback from practitioners around what more they would like to see from the tool in terms of functionality, to help inform where we go next with Patchwork

We’re going to be keeping in touch with practitioners over the next couple of months, asking for their feedback. Together with the pilot being undertaken in Lichfield, this will feed into development of first full version one of Patchwork later this year.

It’s a fantastic milestone and we’re very grateful to all the frontline staff in Brighton and Hove who have taken part in the workshops during the set-up phase, taken time to talk to us and who will be involved in the trial period. We’re also very grateful to colleagues in information governance across agencies who have helped us develop a cross-agency data sharing agreement, as well as the Brighton & Hove City Council ICT team who have helped us to get Patchwork up and running on their ICT infrastructure.

So in summary – thanks and here we go! The level of interest from practitioners to date has been really encouraging and we’re looking forward to seeing what Patchwork can deliver.

Keep an eye on this blog as we will be reporting back on a regular basis to fill you in on what we’re learning through the pilot – the challenges and the opportunities. More soon.

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!

Kicking off the Patchwork Technology Strategy Group

Image: nebarnix

Already almost at the end of January and 2012 is racing by.

It’s been a busy return to the office post-Christmas and last week saw FutureGov hosting the first cross-council Technology Strategy meeting. This brought together colleagues from Staffordshire and Brighton to start talking about some of the big issues and areas of focus for Patchwork that will be worked through over the next few months. The aim is to make sure our partners are deeply involved in the process of determining the development of the technology behind Patchwork – as well as sharing their experience and expertise.

For a first meeting, we got a lot covered – and made some fairly fundamental decisions. Despite languages such as Ruby on Rails being in no way commonplace in local government, we agreed that Ruby was here to stay. Linked to that conversation, there was unanimous support for Patchwork to be externally hosted  in the longer-term, either in the Cloud or another form of secured storage. Cloud itself is definitely seen as part of the future for both partners, although the details of the commonplace concerns over security are not fully worked through yet but we are beginning to work with a range of cloud providers to ensure we can make cloud a reality sooner rather than later.

As we move into gathering feedback from the users in both Brighton and Lichfield District, we agreed we would need to find a way to make this as visible and transparent a process as possible. Taking a user-led approach means that we want to be driven by the needs of frontline staff, and children and families, where we can – again within the limitations of Information Sharing and what is technically possible. There’s more thinking to be done about how we can start to do this with users from two different geographies, particularly in the potential scenario where their needs conflict and prioritisation of the development roadmap is needed. However we all agreed the importance of having as many channels for feedback as possible, making sure that we let users know what happens to their requirements whether they end up in the tool or not.

For me, Friday’s meeting was crucial element of co-design. We’re not only working extremely closely with the end users, but we’re also actively discussing the broader technology issues with our partner local authorities. These are things that the frontline staff my never see or indeed need to be aware of, but completely shape the direction of the product and how it will operate in the future. It was great to see two partners, both at similar stages of piloting, who are so engaged in the conversation.

No doubt the best bit of our job is getting to talk to and work closely with our partners. Friday a very good day indeed.

“Putting children at the heart of what we do”. Patchwork gets going in Brighton.

This month has seen the launch of the Patchwork project in Brighton – and it’s been a busy and exciting few weeks.

The project kicked off with a packed launch event at the start of the month. My carefully laid out table plans were happily discarded once it became clear that we had to find seats for the extra 25 people that had turned out to hear what Patchwork was all about (a problem we were happy to have!).

Introducing the event Brighton and Hove City Council Chief Executive, John Barradell was explicit that it should be about ‘putting families, putting service user, putting children at the heart of what we do’. In helping to coordinate and connect the team around a child or family, Patchwork will work to support practitioners to do exactly that.

The Brighton Programme Lead for Patchwork, Paul Brewer, explained that front-line staff regularly feed back on the challenges they face in connecting and sharing information with other practitioners. This project, he stressed, is aimed at looking at solutions. He described Patchwork as a “very simple lightweight web technology that allows people to know who’s involved with the child, and to make those connections that are so important to the delivery of services”.

Carrie then shared the Patchwork story to date. This was met with a host of questions about what the application can do and what more it may be able to do in the future. Feedback was incredibly positive and it was clear that there is a strong appetite for a solution to the perennial challenges of multi-agency working. Almost everyone who came along was keen to stay involved, providing their expertise to make sure it’s a success.

We were also given food for thought about the next steps for the project. Overwhelmingly the majority of questions were concerned with issues of consent, sharing of sensitive information and security of technology. Yet, there was also recognition that for it to work, it would be ideal for practitioners from all agencies working with children, to have access to the Patchwork app. As Carrie discussed recently, it’s going to be crucial to work through these issues.

We also heard about problems with existing technology for Children’s Services, and the need to remove complex and inflexible technology-led administrative practices. And, of course, there were a lot of views about what else people would like the app to do:

“It would be really important to be able to see the links between children and family members so that you can see the network that exist around the whole family”

“Are you able to see the historic data, about practitioners that were previously involved but no longer involved?”

“Does it have a service that allows you to message other people?”

‘It would be very useful if the tool could be used to email all professionals involved to meetings”

“Do you get automatic reminders to tell you that you are still listed as involved with a child?”

It is this input from practitioners that will continue to drive the way Patchwork is developed. Front-line staff involved in testing the tool in Brighton will share their views, not just on functionality, but on usability, to develop the right tool for Brighton. The task for the Patchwork team is to translate these views into useful functionality for the app.

Since the event we’ve been building on the momentum by talking and listening to individuals and teams, generating awareness of the project across the local authority and partner organisations. This has ranged from pastoral staff in schools, to domestic violence case workers in the police, to legal staff in the local authority. We’ve been hearing a lot about the day-to-day reality of stitching together all the people and organisations that support children and families.

Two things in particular have struck me from all these conversations. Firstly, I have been inspired by the passion people have for the job they do and the commitment to overcome these challenges. There is a real willingness to work together to give families coordinated support; they just need the right tools to help them do this. Secondly, there is a very determined focus to put children and families at the heart of any solution. We couldn’t agree more and are going to try and speak to children and families to find out what they think about the project.

The next month promises to be just as busy. We’ll keeping up the conversations, as well as following through on the issues that have been raised so far, including information governance. We also planning a follow-up workshop for front-line staff so that they can get their hands on the Patchwork app and find out how they can get involved in trialling it in the New Year!

If you have any comments, suggestions or would just like to find out more then please get in touch with me at kiran [at] wearefuturegov [dot] com