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.

5 Days, 5 Councils – The Universal Aspects of Patchwork

 

As momentum for Patchwork continues to grow in the UK, you can imagine how excited we were to touch down in Melbourne, Australia, last week to take Patchwork global.  You can read some more about the how this came to be in one of our previous blog posts.

Needless to say last week was a busy week of getting over jet lag, getting our bearings, getting only a little lost in Melbourne (FYI, I count this as a huge success) and most importantly connecting with the 5 councils in Victoria we will be working with.  We managed to catch up with all of them; KingstonYarraCity of MelbourneBrimbank and Wyndham, to find out more about how they work and the difference they want to experience as a result of having Patchwork.

Patchwork will be used in both the Youth Service and the Maternal Child Health Teams, all who have a strong partnership edge to their work.  As you can imagine we approach a project like this with some questions, the biggest of which is  “will Patchwork fit into the context of their work in the same way that it does in the UK?”

We needn’t have worried. It seems there are some aspects to working in this area and with Patchwork that are universal:

1. A Desire to Strengthen Partnership Working

I feel like I can say with some confidence now that almost regardless of place and wherever you happen to be on your journey to truly integrated services for children and families, there is just something about this group of professionals that is committed to improvement. They are always seeking to do more, be better and to improve outcomes for their clients. Here in Melbourne, Patchwork is just one of many things that is going on to strengthen multi-agency working. We hope to be telling you more about some of their other work as the weeks go by.

2. Data Protection is Key

Wanting to protect people’s data and sharing that data to improve client care is also a universal tension. For many practitioners this connects with their own professional ethics and how they approach their role – often grounded in a need to build a relationship with clients and secure consent before they act.  Of course, this isn’t possible in every situation and like many practitioners in the UK, front line workers want to get this right for their clients.  What is really clear is that solutions need to work in a way that support front line workers and strengthens relationships with clients and other agencies rather than constrains them.

3. Trust is Vital to Strengthen Links

Here in Victoria, much work has been done in relation to the Privacy Act and gaining consent from clients so trust is established with their caseworker to both take care of their data but also that they will only share data when there is a legitimate reason to do so. As we work through this we will be sharing learning as my guess is some of these issues will resonate for many front line workers, and across many projects.

We will keep posting on the Patchwork blog about some of these aspects and more broadly about the project as it progresses. Make sure to check the blog regularly, subscribe by RSS for more insights, or get in touch for further info on how Patchwork could work for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

‘I’d rather go to jail for sharing too much information than not enough’

Image: Paolo Marconi

Talking to a room full of child protection practitioners at the launch of our work with Brighton and Hove City Council recently, I outlined the story of Patchwork to date.  The response was great – I couldn’t have hoped for more enthusiasm and participation from everyone there.  We had a full house and even a potential fire hazard at one point, until we made more space for the nearly 90 practitioners that turned up.

It was a proud moment sharing our journey with Patchwork so far and it’s clear that designing the app with practitioners instead of at them has led to a product that meets their needs.  No one questioned the point of Patchwork – all the questions were asking what it does and what more it could do (answer: plenty!).

As you can imagine, a lot of the questions were about information security.  Is it open to just anyone?  How do you stop people randomly searching for others?  And of course people wanted to know if they could upload their case notes and use it as a multi-agency messaging system.  This is where my heart sinks a bit.  Technically can we do that stuff?  Of course!  In reality will we be able to do that stuff?  Right now it seems a couple of years off.

The problem is Information Governance.  I don’t have the background to go into the detail of it, but our work on Patchwork has introduced us to a moral maze (or is that a legal labyrinth?) of Information Governance issues.  The law (or is it policy? or guidance?) is confusing to say the least, but more confusing is the way that the public sector’s policies seem set up to prevent good working links between different agencies – health, police, local councils, voluntary sector, housing associations, private companies, fire service and even individuals like parents and carers.

This post is not a rant about how bad the policies are, or how the law should be changed.  It’s a call to local authorities and other public sector agencies to invest in their Information Governance teams.  Investing in anything right now is a tall ask but if there’s anything that can save money in the medium to long term it’s having an all-star, red-hot Information Governance team.

I know what it’s like – you see ‘Information Governance’ on a budget line and think ‘That’s got ‘cut’ written all over it’.  After all, who really knows what those guys do?  Didn’t we just invest in Sharepoint?  Wasn’t that supposed to solve all these problems and mean that information is flowing round the organisation like a well oiled machine? (How’s that working out for you by the way?).

Here’s what a top-notch Information Governance team should be doing:  working out how local authorities can share information with other agencies (and vice versa) without compromising people’s privacy and security; thinking about how to work with cloud computing and the security and information implications of having data hosted outside of the council; helping staff in services understand how to use the web safely; helping you figure out how you can stop investing in big expensive systems and start running lightweight web-based apps.  I’d like to see more suggestions in the comments…

Most local authority Information Governance teams are only a couple of people strong if you’re lucky, and those we’ve encountered in the NHS seem to be about the same.  They’re overworked, under-resourced and operating in a world that is rapidly dying.  No wonder their default position is to say ‘no’ and to operate an approvals-based system that leaves you guessing at what might satisfy their standards.  They don’t have time to work together to find solutions and ways to break through the barriers, they only have time to highlight risk.  Furthermore they work in a field that is tabloid heaven.  If something goes wrong it’s their responsibility (legally) and their name in the Daily Mail.  The fear of blame is endemic in the public sector and leads to restrictive practice all over the place.  But that’s another post for another day.

The point is that it’s easy to blame Information Governance teams for not being progressive enough or for constantly blocking innovation.  But good information governance is essential to keep services running in a web-enabled world, and it’s the last thing that should be running on a shoestring.  It’s time to invest in professionals who know their stuff, have in-depth knowledge of web technology and security, and have time to support the organisation in how they use technology and use it right, not whether to use it at all.

If this post had any influence at all we’d see 400 councils rushing out to recruit their own Information Governance teams.  But in reality a district probably doesn’t need its own team, and in many ways even a county doesn’t.  It would be way more interesting to see local authorities and other public agencies investing together in a shared Information Governance resource, perhaps at county or city level.  They could afford more and better advice and the advice would be applicable to a region rather than a fragmented agency-by-agency basis.  That would put organisations on an equal footing and create the conditions for multi-agency working to be successful.

Meanwhile, back at PatchworkHQ we’ll be spending the next 6 months trying to work through the information governance issues associated with letting practitioners from different agencies just see who else is working with their cases.  The title of this post is a quote from a social worker who refuses to let the absurdity of current Information Governance rules dictate her practice, and we’re fortunate to work with many others who feel the same.

Onwards!

Evaluating impact in Lichfield and Staffordshire

get connected

Image: Derek Baird

Following our recent announcement of our on-going partnership with Staffordshire County Council and long-time supporters of Patchwork at Lichfield, we’ve been working hard with the councils and partner agencies to build on the work already done to develop and test Patchwork with practitioners.

Earlier in the year we had a bunch of users in Lichfield signed up to both help us design, but then also trial the tool as part of a proof of concept – to test the functionality and see whether there’s benefits in using Patchwork longer term. We wanted to both see whether the technology worked, but also to find out whether practitioners found it useable and useful in their work.

We’ve spent the last few months working to get a longer pilot in place with strong evaluation behind it as an opportunity to really test the tool in live operation. So we’ve been working with Lichfield and our partners across Staffordshire to get this up and running so that we can measure the success of Patchwork with more cases. During this period, we’ll be asking the users some questions around how easy they find it to contact the right people in partner agencies when working with complex cases – both before and after the introduction of Patchwork. The aim is to quantifiably illustrate the value we believe the app brings given our experience so far and the anecdotal stories we now want to more rigorously capture.

This is now happening, with users from multiple agencies currently being given access to the application to play around with. Throughout the pilot, and in particular at the end of this next period of testing in 3 months, we’ll be talking to them about what they liked and didn’t like, and using this to develop the prototype into a full blown product.

As if this weren’t keeping us busy, we’re working across the county to design a roll-out of Patchwork to the other districts and boroughs, working with partners in the Fire & Rescue Service, the NHS, Staffordshire Police and a range of other organisations including the community sector, to try to extend the benefits of Patchwork across the county for the long term.

With the Patchwork team nearly complete (for now at least!) and the second site now up and running down in Brighton, it’s full steam ahead!

If you’re interested in hearing more, you can follow our tweets, or sign up for the blog updates here or the Patchwork newsletter. Also, if you would like to talk about bringing Patchwork to your council, do get in touch.

Lichfield Council kick off Patchwork pilot

Front line staff learning about Patchwork

Back last year we began the first phase of our Safeguarding 2.0 project, exploring how the information surrounding social services could be better brought together to protect the people it is meant to serve.

It’s been quite a journey but this week we marked the launch of the beta version of Patchwork – our Safeguarding app with our partners at Lichfield District Council. This is the beginning of a four week trial of the working prototype, involving fifty people testing it as part of the local Let’s Work Together and Supporting Families programmes.

Most importantly of all, we feel we’ve listened to frontline professionals and built a prototype app with them for them that we think will help them in the most important thing they do each day – working closely together as a team, focusing their time on building the best possible relationships with their clients across the area.

The last ten weeks have seen an intensive period of getting the technology built and tested, giving us the opportunity to create an application that reinvents the way information is shared across local public services.

Before building the app, we we asked potential users of Patchwork to complete the sentence “wouldn’t it be great it Patchwork could…” Three big priorities stood out:

  • Provide the names, role and contact number of the professionals currently supporting a client
  • Illustrate which professional have an upcoming visit with the client and when
  • Illustrate which professionals have recently been in contact with the client and when.

We’re now keen to listen and see if Patchwork has managed to deliver.

Last week as part of the launch we ran two training sessions to introduce the completed first version of Patchwork to the people who have helped shape it. On Monday we brought in forty home visitors, from district nurses to fire fighters. Then on Tuesday ten practitioners joined the trial as part of Supporting Families programme, including youth workers and community safety officers.

“I’m really looking forward to is watching how Patchwork can help partners and agencies involved in social care become more in touch with each other. It’s going to help us put the families at the centre of a new structure, something our Chief Executive is fully behind. Above all else it’s fantastic that we’re able to use real families and real practioners, over twenty of us, in trying Patchwork out. Hopefully in four weeks we can come back together and look at the things that work, the things that need changing and most importantly show a new way to make information work for us, linking us closer with each other and the families we work with.”

Bob Haynes, Community Safety Officer at Lichfield District Council

Practitioners signing up to Patchwork

Working alongside information governance colleagues across the council, we’ve also developed a cross-agency data sharing agreement that allows professionals to use Patchwork from the district and county council, the PCT, schools and fire service. This has been helped in no small part by being supported to host Patchwork within Staffordshire ICT infrastructure.

So, what next? We’ll be working closely with our beta users over the next month, as well as hosting an event with our project partners NESTA in the very near future to share how Team Lichfield have used Patchwork, if it has brought value to their day to day practice and if, crucially, we’ve  helped strengthen the support networks around vulnerable children and adults.

In the meantime, you can follow our tweets, or sign up for the big updates here.

Also, if you’d like to talk to us about bringing Patchwork to your council, drop us a line.

Nina Dawes, Chief Exec of Lichfield, explaining the journey to the launch.

Introducing Patchwork – the safeguarding app

Having spent four months working closely with eternally supportive project partners Lichfield District Council and NESTA, the time has come to announce the next stage in the development of the Safeguarding 2.0 project.

Almost two years ago now (how time flies!) we set ourselves the challenge of bringing together our knowledge of social technologies, service design and local government with the insight of both children, families and frontline support workers to develop a new approach to safeguarding through better connecting those individuals and organisations involved in all parts of the process.

We’ve interviewed frontline practitioners, interviewed clients, attended multi-agency working groups and worked through a range of options with ICT and information governance teams to develop a prototype web application designed with and for the people who will ultimately benefit from it the most. You can read more about what we’ve been up to over the last 4 months here and here.

Patchwork – the safeguarding app

Today we can announce that the web application, called Patchwork, we will be launched in prototype in Lichfield later this month.

Patchwork is designed for people supporting complex families to build and strengthen their relationships, keeping the child and their family at the centre of everything they do.

In short, Patchwork helps you:

  • Get a quick and easy overview of the people you’re supporting
  • Find out who else is working with them and how to contact them
  • Invite in other people you think should be involved
  • Keep the picture up-to-date for all involved

Testing the prototype

In May we will be running the prototype within Lichfield, inviting in a range of people within public sector and third sector organisations responsible for the welfare of vulnerable adults and children.

During the prototype phase of the project, Patchwork will be hosted on Staffordshire County Council’s IT infrastructure ensuring we ensure both security while also making sure it is accessible to the council’s partner organisations.

While the prototype will be restricted to a test group of professionals, over the next few weeks we’ll be revealing screenshots, stories and more information on our design decisions.

In the meantime, you can sign up to our mailing list to be kept up to date with developments at http://www.patchworkhq.com.

And beyond

We’re also interested in meeting with other authorities that think they might want to use Patchwork. If you’re interested in testing a new approach to Safeguarding, or have any additional questions on any of our work so far, please do get in touch.

Making personal data delightful

Following our recent updates on user requirements gathering and how to use social technology to support better information sharing and, importantly, improve relationships, we were keen to give you a wider perspective on progress to date during the first stage of the project.

Image from waymire on Flickr

FutureGov have been working with Lichfield District Council and its partners since November to build and prototype a web application, specifically for Lichfield’s needs. Here in the district, the Lichfield Strategic Partnership are running two projects, Let’s Work Together and Supporting Families.

Let’s Work Together aims to maximise the value for money of home visits, primarily to vulnerable adults, providing front line practitioners with the skills to spot risks to the person they are visiting which might be outside of their own professional sphere. Upon spotting a risk the home visitor will either signpost the person to another agency or arrange a referral. The risks would include fires, cold, falls, excessive alcohol consumption and smoking. The idea is to keep people living safely in their own homes for as long as possible.

Supporting Families aims to develop local agreements between the professionals responsible for children welfare and protection on how they can work together to better help the more complex families in the district.

Safeguarding 2.0 sees FutureGov developing a technical application capable of supporting professionals and volunteers working for a range of agencies to collaborate effectively and place the families they are helping at the centre of their process.

Getting to know Lichfield and its data needs

Our aim is to make data work for those who need to use it. So our first priority was to map out the experiences from Lichfield’s projects, departments and (most importantly) people that we want to support with our product. As expected, the amount of government and non-government aims, risks and priorities to be considered were clearly huge and complex, so it was vital to talk to as many people as possible, face to face, to make sure we’ve considered things from every possible angle.

Everyone that I have spoken to, shadowed and presented to, from department managers to social care clients, had a different story to tell, each having their own unique position in the care system and barriers to face. The Positive Activities group, for example, are a remarkable team that organise and deliver social activities for young people.  As professionals they have the respect and trust of the children and young people that they work directly with in the various youth centres across the district.  However I also saw how they can find it frustrating and time consuming it can be when communicating with other agencies and referring clients to other services.

It comes as no surprise this is challenging. A particular child and family’s complex needs rarely match the structures and silos of the organisations designed to help them. For example, an issue with a young person’s situation at home may be manifested at school or vice versa. In order to successfully provide effective support, organisations and their practitioners must move away from a departmental and transactional model of working, towards a more holistic approach focused on understanding the child, their family and then working with them to achieve their goals. The challenge of making this shift has been present throughout the project.

Working with the data

Alongside these conversations we began to look to the ways we could visualise how information can be displayed and used in a more effective ways. It was important that right from the off we consider the design, functions and content of the Safeguarding 2.0 product, and root this in the reality of both what people are doing, but also what information is being recorded in the various systems in place today.

To do this exercise, it seemed to me as though we had three options:

  1. Gain consent from 10 individuals for us to securely aggregate the records stored by the various agencies and analyse ways of effectively visualising this for front line workers
  2. Sufficiently anonymise data such that it no longer falls under the Data Protection Act and work with this data.
  3. Fabricate data based on current practice, such that we can analyse and visualise this.

I presented these options to the boards of both Let’s Work Together and Supporting Families. Both agreed that Option 3 was best and should still enable service users to clearly compare how our prototype adds value.

This decision highlights an important broader question that the team and I have been reflecting on:

What’s the most effective way to create innovative products and services in these thorny areas, where legislation, policy and data protection all play a role?  It’s one thing creating a mash-up of open data on crime rates across the UK, but how can you approach sensitive personal data in a similarly explorative, playful manner?

Once the design stage is complete, we will approach Information Governance to help develop the appropriate procedures to enable us to use real data within the system, demonstrating the value of the product to families and practitioners alike. More on this soon…

Moving forward

We tied up this stage with our Safeguarding 2.0 workshops, which brought some of the wide variety of people to consolidate learnings. You can read my full reflections here, but the main themes that seemed clear were:

  • The importance of the relationships between professionals in different agencies (including the client) and the difficultly in developing these relationships
  • How confusing working in this environment can be. We heard how people don’t always know which other organisations are involved with a particular client, and when they do know, it not always being clear which professional is responsible.

As mentioned before, it feels that through this first stage the angle of the project has tilted. From conversations, thoughts on data comparisons and workshop outcomes it feels more valuable to build a product (starting now excitingly) that supports people to build relationships, both across agencies, and with the client – rather than the original product proposition of surfacing data stored within the various silos.

It’s a big challenge that requires relationships as well as systems to change. However, if we are successful, we should be able to create strong connections based on trust, as well as make it easier to exchange the complex information.

Our next steps are to prioritise the features we need to include to help facilitate a better relationship between agencies, as well as the complex task of finding a safe place to keep these data sets that can work across social services. More on this later in the week.

We keep feeding the machine, but what has the machine done for us?

So I’ll continue of where Ian left off with his blog post about the product, the app, the thing and it’s role in building relationships.

He alluded to a slight change in direction. Previously about surfacing hidden data, now more focused on relationship building.

Social Platforms

My classic reaction to such a proposition is to start thinking in terms of social platforms. In this case i’m keen to try and steer away from that direction as social-platforms can be reductive in their nature. Reducing a person down to a profile, an avatar and activity stream. A conversation down to a text box. Text is a low bandwidth communication, phrases can easily taken out of context or – more accurately – out of face. Social platforms have a lot to offer many situations (a-synchronous, trackable, analysable, scalable) but if pushed too far down this direction people become purely the meat that drives digital interactions.

Image borrowed from here – thanks!

Social technology should be about triggering you to call or meet someone. They should be focused as a supplement to richer communication channels, not a replacement a for them. Ironically for a project that is looking into using a database-driven-applications to help with Child protection Terri Dowty nails it:

“Rather than trying to reduce child protection to an industrial process, the government should give maximum priority to the current staffing crisis in social services. No computer can substitute for the intuition and professional judgment of an experienced social worker, nor for conversations between real live people; hunches don’t readily translate into words on a database.”

Getting out the way

It has become clear during this project that what enables frontline workers to be brilliant is professional experience. Hunches, trust, “knowing where to look”. To try and replicate these intuitions in data formats and interface design seems naive at best and an enormous waste of money at worst. I’ve been trying to think of an application that I don’t notice i’m using, that fades into the background and help me get on with my job.

Dropbox gets out of my way, but remove it from my Mac now and I’d feel like i hade lost a limb. Delicious doesn’t expect sharing of me, it primarily offers me an easier way of getting to my bookmarks. The network effect is secondary collateral. Schooloscope offers data to me at a glance before I decide to take the time to deep dive into something. Between those three points is something, what it is quite yet we are not sure, but there is definitely something.

Mega Systems

What we don’t want to do is build a mega-system. Much as it would be easier to create The-One-Central-System that everyone agrees to use. Over time these become unmanageable and out of date.


To my mind OpenAir offers the false promise that you might ever “know the status of everything”. Aside from the philosophical complexities of knowing everything, there are design implications to offering this kind of functionality!

A more apt example was the much referenced ContactPoint. Mentioned by the frontline workers as A Good Thing I can understand why, it exposed unknown colleagues in a fairly quick and simple fashion. Yet it only takes a moment of digging into how it was conceived that it starts to sings of Ministerial panic – “held information on all children under 18 in England”. All the Children? All of them? Even those you have never met and have no need to? With the god-like powers of hindsight I wonder why it took roughly £220m in payment to Capgemini to conclude that it might not be welcomed by everyone.

I’d rather say we don’t know everything. Professionals just know when things seem to be running well and from quantitative feedback can you can validate that things are improving.

Lets lay off the reporting sytsems and focus technology either removing tangible barriers or honing in on the parts of frontline workers daily lives that work well and supercharge them.

Personally my quote over the 2 days of workshopping was the exacerbated release of:

“We keep feeding the machine, but what has the machine done for us?”

Fingers crossed we make a good first step towards giving something back.