Patchwork Featured in Report on Building Tech-Powered Public Services

Building Tech-Powered Public Serbices

Building Tech-Powered Public Services is a new report published by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), looking at digital innovations in health and social care.

There are 7 major case studies in the report, including Patchwork. The other case studies are Casserole Club (a community that links people who like cooking with their neighbours who are in need of a hot meal), ADL SmartcareMental ElfPatient Opinion, The Digital Pen and form system and Woodland Wiggle.

These grassroots projects focus on the frontline experience of delivering and receiving public services, and avoid some of the pitfalls of top-down IT projects.

Sarah Bickerstaffe, the report’s author, answers two main questions:

Can technology improve the experience of people using public services?

“Technology can improve people’s experience of receiving public services, just as it has improved the user experience in so many other sectors. In health and social care particularly, the era of chronic conditions – which cannot be cured and are caused in large part by lifestyle factors – means that technology can play a critical role in placing power, responsibility and control in the hands of individuals to help them manage their own health.”

Could tech-powered public services be an affordable, sustainable solution to some of the challenges of austerity?

“Technology can also help to bear down on bureaucracy and ensure that the transactional elements of public services are as efficient as possible. More significantly, it can make a contribution to delivering more preventative services that stop or delay problems escalating, costing the taxpayer more downstream.”

There were clear and consistent lessons on how to successfully implement tech innovations in public services, which is covered on the FutureGov blog.

Here is the full Patchwork case study, but we encourage you to download the full report on the IPPR website.

Patchwork

Patchwork emerged when FutureGov founder Dominic Campbell watched a documentary on the catastrophic failings in care in the ‘Baby P’ case.

Campbell had experience working in local government as a head of back office strategy, as well as experience of implementing big IT systems.

He explains that while working within local government he became disillusioned by technology consisting of ‘inelegant inhuman systems that make you rewire your brain rather than fitting into the world around you’.

He was astonished that the terrible circumstances around Baby P were able to come about ‘in an era of Facebook’, when the general public can be so closely connected to one another .Campbell explains that he wondered:

‘How can one case worker not know what another might be concerned with?… I found information governance wouldn’t let us share information within ourselves, let alone across organisations … so putting that together with the [Baby P] documentary I thought “I know it doesn’ t have to be this way”.’

Instead, he became interested in the potential of:

‘… using modern open source networked technology to work in areas like CRM [customer relation management] and case management in particular – so a lot around case records and joining the dots a lot of the time between silos of information in the public sector to make sure that the public sector is working as well as possible and also empowering practitioners to do the best job possible.’

This process saw the founding of FutureGov, set up around five years ago, to begin to think about new ways of developing technology for and with the public sector.

The organisation benefitted from early Nesta investment, and used this to spend six months testing the Patchwork hypothesis with Lichfield in Staffordshire.

This process began with 12 weeks of design interventions and roughly 8–10 weeks of prototyping. Campbell explains:

‘We think that design research is totally fundamental to articulating the problem accurately … [Patchwork] has been going on for about three and a half years now, and I would say that a year and a half of that at least has been around design research of one form or another. In that first six months [design research] was two-thirds of it. Easily 50 per cent of our time.’

Following a pilot of the project in Lichfield, FutureGov expanded the process and went on to develop Patchwork in Brighton and Surr ey local authorities.

Impact

Quality of care: In connecting different practitioners around a child or family that they are working with, Patchwork can lead to better, more complete decisions and earlier interventions.

Practitioners can express concerns and add comments and observations, all without sharing confidential case information. In cr eating a ‘social network-like’ environment around an individual, outside agencies, GPs, local authority practitioners, education services and other health practitioners can see who else is working with the child or family in question, and get in touch with queries or comments.

A user -centred design process ensures that the programme is tailored to suit the users and that the various levels of team are satisfied with its use, meaning a more efficient take-up.

Productivity: Patchwork can save time for frontline staff, avoiding the need to spend time calling around to find out who is dealing with a child or family .

It can help to build relationships between health and social care agencies and enable earlier intervention to prevent problems developing and worsening.

Insofar as it pr events children and families from developing a need for more intensive public services, such as hospital stays or foster care, Patchwork has the potential to have a big impact on productivity, but it is very difficult to quantify the potential savings fr om avoiding future costs.

Wider lessons

For FutureGov, the first problems were a lack of trust and of basic contemporary and social technology literacy. So Campbell says that their initial work was around:

‘… teaching them the basics, just trying to get them to get back … to the possibility of major corporate transformation through social technology. But they were so behind you had to show them the basics and make the market before they could even imagine that it was trustworthy enough to do something serious with.’

FutureGov also encountered specific resistance in the working culture of the local authorities to the idea of transparency.

Campbell talks about how digital technology ‘codifies’ practice – how normal, logical practice quite often happens outside of official frameworks of behaviour.

Putting this into a system as a supported behaviour acknowledges practices that everyone does in day-to-day work, but no one talks about.

These are actions that officially might be frowned upon but are taken because the practitioner believes them to be in the best interest of the service user.

Exposing these practices can be incredibly disruptive:

‘Patchwork is so challenging as a change to working, in ways we didn’ t even realise … people moan about the silos [of information on cases] when they’re in them and how disruptive they are to services, but if you give them the opportunity to join up those silos you realise that kind of openness and connectivity terrifies them … It’s like going from dark to light overnight, you’ve gone from “this is my case, it’s locked down, I know I’m the only person who can see this stuff, I can write whatever I want about this individual” to the next moment where, for example, the drug and alcohol team are terrified because even though there’s no information sharing (it’s just a way of connecting practitioners) the police and JobCentre can see that they’ve also got a connection to that client. That’s suddenly … a new level of transparency and openness that they’re just not used to.’

Frontline workers also sometimes felt that they did not have the capacity needed to learn how to use a new technology.

While the Patchwork software is timesaving, learning how to work with it does require an initial time investment. An internal evaluation document produced by FutureGov notes that a significant response from practitioners (especially around the adoption of technology while ‘in development’) was a concern about a lack of time.

‘Another participant saw this as an additional administrative task that duplicated work already undertaken for their own agency/service requirements by stating that s/he had already ‘a lot of admin tasks for our own record keeping’. It became apparent that participants ‘only [saw] this as a pilot’ and thus the amount of ef fort given to contribute and maintain Patchwork when balancing challenging workloads was reduced. One participant summed this up by stating ‘ if other people don’t get in involved maybe we haven’t got to do it ’. Some practitioners made it clear that they were ‘told’ to work with Patchwork, but workloads prohibited any deep engagement. Notwithstanding the ease of use of Patchwork … participants felt it was difficult to remember to log on and contribute to the system. They proposed that it has not yet become automatic to go to Patchwork as part of their daily work, suggesting if it were to be a substantial part of their working practice, rather than a pilot, it would become more  automatic.’

Campbell believes that educating public sector workers on the process of user-centred design will help to overcome the perception that existing workloads make the adoption of new technology impossible: involvement in the development process requires investment of time, but develops a better, more efficient product.

From the perspective of a technology developer, having team members with public sector experience was important. FutureGov relied heavily on this expertise to find an authority with which to begin a pilot, when they received an initial grant with the provison that they were to spend it within a matter of months.

‘But if you were outside of the kind of network we have, I just don’t know where you would start’.

For this reason, FutureGov are also involved in setting up a platform called Simpl, described as ‘an ideas crowd-sourcing platform’ – which ‘surfaces good ideas’ – solutions to problems that practitioners and public alike can highlight, and crucially ‘in one place’ that councils can look at. Employing people with experience of the public sector means they have a shared language and a meeting point when it comes to the design and development process.

It was also important for product development, as it provided an understanding of the context in which products would be used.

‘The thing that drives me most nuts about the “cool kids” who are getting into this space now is that they haven’ t got the patience to go and engage with councils and practitioners, and therefore they build things that are kind of right – because [they] lead with technology rather than design.’

This ‘kind of right’ innovation feeds the resistance in the public sector to technology that is unwieldy or ‘fashionable’ but not, ultimately, useful.

Looking at Patchwork in action, Campbell notes the difficulty in quantifying impact when interventions are designed primarily to prevent future problems occurring.

‘It’s a preventative tool, so working out how many issues you prevented a vulnerable adult having, or how many kids you protected, it’s challenging, but it’s stuff we’re getting very heavy on, demonstrating impact … It’s vital, especially if we’re talking about new creative social technology too, which is more about social capital – more nebulous … I think the evaluation framework for this stuff is still to be born. There’s nothing good out there, yet – probably because most councils aren’t working in that way yet.’

Building a sound business case, based on a proof of concept, pilot evidence and strong evaluation techniques, is crucial.

Once the business case is ready, exposure to key decision-makers in procurement and public sector innovation is also incredibly important.

This is still a problem for FutureGov:

‘I see people like Jeremy Hunt paying £9.2 million for a child protection system for NHS and A&E hospitals, to join them up (but not to councils) and I know that with a third of that we could offer Patchwork to the whole country: A&E, council, social care team, whatever you wanted.

So when I see that, that’s when I realise you have to connect to the top level … the people who cost out those ridiculous £9.2 million budgets. There isn’t an opportunity for new entrants at that scale.’

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.

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

Safeguarding 2.0 – the story so far

Round the meeting table

WHEN it comes to meetings, there are (yawn) meetings – and then there are (Ooh!) meetings. The session at the LGiU on Friday at the half way stage of Safeguarding 2.0 turned out to be one of those rare inspirational MEETINGS worthy of big, bold capital letters. Everyone round the table agreed  the gathering to review the project’s progress  was buzzing loudly with hope and enthusiasm.

Right from the start, ideas bounced off the walls faster than Andy Murray’s blockbuster serves and there was some passionate pulling and tugging across the table over the aims and achievements of the project’s ambition to find potential solutions on how to better protect vulnerable children using the power of the web.

The discussion threw up plenty of debate on what had gone before and provided some fascinating paths for the project to explore in the weeks ahead. That included a novel idea from blogger Johnnie Moore who suggested unpicking the complicated organisation and intricate thinking behind something as fascinating and unrelated as a Formula One race team might throw up a  winning chequered flag solution to cut through the “horrible regulation” surrounding social work!  Could it be that the more we have tried to put things right in safeguarding, the more we have created confusion? So taking everything back-to-basics might indeed be the Holy Grail for social workers desperate to spend time with needy families, but  sinking under the burden of forms, systems and tick boxes?

Blogger and school governor Matthew Rees was moved in a post-meeting blog post, to gleefully report that this was one of the best meetings he had been to in many a year. Undeniably what came across loud and clear  from the Safeguarding 2.0 research is that social workers have a massive workload and a palpable fear of anything from outside which could compromise confidentiality and damage relationships with their clients. The feedback too from professionals already mistrustful of technology was that the job was busy enough and they “really didn’t need another ‘gadget’ to work with.”

That was the quandry everyone at the meeting was left to ponder. What piece of technology would, could, should make a difference to ensuring Baby Peter failings never happen? Or as FutureGov’s Dominic Campbell admitted, would the project discover the real solution was no piece of technology at all?

The Safeguarding 2.0 project does take one firm standpoint though. It is important when tragedies happen we never shrug our shoulders and think nothing can be done because the problem is too huge.

Given that firm foothold, the halfway report from project leader Carrie Bishop of FutureGov clearly laid out the story so far on how Safeguarding 2.0 is working to discover what, if any,  web technology can help join up the vital dots to help complete the whole revealing picture of a  vulnerable child’s life in a vulnerable family and so prevent another Baby Peter tragedy.

She emphasised that from the very beginning it was felt the project could throw up  everything – or nothing. That was the challenge at the start-up meeting which sparked huge enthusiasm. Since then FutureGov has gathered together a committed team from the LGiU, Think Public, Headshift and Barnardo’s which undaunted by the mammoth task ahead,  moved the project forward to take a step into the unknown in a bid to  uncover the problems facing professionals and families and build possible solutions.

The project began mid-January with key to the work being the co-operation of  social workers which team member Thinkpublic researchers knew was vital in their bid to build a clear picture of their hectic working day and what innovative piece of technology might contribute to making it click better and more efficiently into place.

So herograms and thanks all round at this point to everyone in Westminster City Council who have come on board to share their thoughts and help the project understand the work challenges they face every day.  It became clear at an early stage that the  social workers Thinkpublic researchers  talked to believe confidentiality is paramount in their work. Those of us not involved with such  acutely sensitive work might be forgiven for believing when professionals seal a  case conference room  to the extent of covering over a glass door panel to protect intimate  information projected onto a wall, we are moving into the realms of  Spooks. Also, surely it is a measure of how technology is regarded as ‘unsafe’ that faxes and paper files are considered okay, but email information and the like are seen as easy to penetrate.  Perhaps too, a  bunker mentality is inevitable among social workers who fear the ever-present glare of public criticism particularly from a tabloid press rushing to blame in the aftermath of failings like Baby Peter.

The mistrust of technology and outside agencies turned into one of  the truly fascinating debates at the meeting with Thinkpublic‘s Ian Drysdale admitting it was taking time to win the trust of busy professionals. He had hoped to show a film of a day in the life of a social worker, but time and opportunity had proved elusive. But as the LGiU‘s   Jasmine Ali encouragingly pointed out, the problems were not insurmountable as the growing co-operation with Westminster Council proved.

Ian Drysdale presenting

Matthew Rees said social workers were proving to be afraid of “something which isn’t happening” when it came to stolen data captured by technology.  He believed the initial challenge faced by Safeguarding 2.0 was to discover how social workers could share “day-to-day stuff” –  the low level intuitive feeling that something is wrong which when collated into a pattern, might  prove vital. “Almost the Twitter of passing on information,” he said.

Amy Wagner,  head of projects at team partner Headshift , saw the challenge as “how can we add to what is being done already. If something doesn’t make it onto the spreadsheet it is lost. Perhaps we can explore ways to catching that data?” That was echoed in three salient points by Carrie Bishop. One; that story-telling by social workers requires input. Two; easy visualisation of  data “more about making sense of the madness.” And three; how to capture low-level intelligence.

So what could be the answer? The halfway report recognises there may not be a definitive answer in a highly complex working environment of relationships and personalities. It also believes much more time is needed to build up trust with social workers to make testing any ‘tool’ smoother.

What would be the ideal at this stage seems to bes a mobile application which would support informal communication and provide visualisation of existing data.

So at the end of an exciting and productive meeting between team and partners, what are the next steps? Well, the project hopes to begin to scope a tool to be built and tested as part of a second phase while continuing to add to an important research base.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on the project so please get in touch if you’d like to be involved – leave us a comment or contact carrie [dot] bishop [at] futuregovconsultancy [dot] com

Meet the team: thinkpublic

team members

The Safeguarding 2.0 project is being delivered by a group of organisations that passionately believe in the power of the web to help improve public services.  FutureGov, the LGiU, thinkpublic, Headshift and Barnardo’s are all working together to see how this idea can be applied to the field of safeguarding, and over the next few weeks we’ll be introducing you to each organisation in turn.

In the early stages of Safeguarding 2.0, thinkpublic is deep into the groundwork of grassroots research. This essential work to find out what social workers need and want is being spearheaded by Ian Drysdale who’s already come up with some fascinating data thanks to co-operation from staff at Westminster City Council who have put aside their understandable and natural reticence to recount with utter honesty their views on what would make a real difference to their work in the field of child safeguarding.

Already some interesting shared facts have emerged which will be translated by Ian into a short film featuring a day in the life of a Westminster social worker, and that will be backed by a written report detailing the views expressed by his colleagues on what changes to formal and informal systems will help them do their job better. That will be presented next Friday at an eagerly awaited meeting of the whole team and interested parties.

So already the machine is moving. Slowly and carefully as it must, at first. The insights gained through thinkpublic’s work will be coupled with the expertise and inspiration of technology experts Headshift,  which we hope will lead to the bright spark of an idea of how social media  can be used as a tool to help social workers.

We’re keen to hear ideas and thoughts about our approach and work so far, as well as possible solutions so as ever please do post comments or email the project manager (carrie [dot] bishop [at] futuregovconsultancy [dot] com)

The tragic context

If we thought things couldn’t get much worse in the world of child protection after the nightmare high-profile death of Baby Peter, recent events in Doncaster have proved every hope to be very sadly misplaced.

Within months both professionals and the public came face to face with the reality of yet another tragedy – and this time it was a true-life horror story of child-on-child violence so terrible and shocking it rocked the nation’s faith in public safeguarding yet again.

The full facts of the tragedy unfolded in the High Court and centred on two young boys in the care of failing Doncaster Social Services who were placed for safety away from their seriously damaging home environment with foster carers who everyone now admits were plainly not equipped to deal with their challenging problems. That set the boys disastrously free at the heart of an solid and caring working class village community.

Within days the boys set about torturing and attacking two local youngsters with such violence that one was left within a heartbeat of death.

So in the wake of the court case with its evidence of mistakes, there has never been a better time for those who care to come together and try something entirely new in a inspirational bid to safeguard children from grassroots level upwards.

Step forward Safeguarding 2.0 – a project seeking to use the power of 21st century cutting-edge technology to find a new and hopeful answer to an old and heartbreaking problem. And that as everyone involved in child safeguarding will know, is not just a massive ask without any guarantee of an answer.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to discover if there is a new way and a better way and if we can make it work through the new technology tools at our fingertips.

The heart of the matter is how to get the jigsaw pieces of information which might just stop another child being hurt right there, at the right place, with the right person, at the very time a vital, life or death decision is made.

Can some safe piece of the web be found where social workers can park vital feelings and hunches to be accessed, mulled over and acted on? If you like a kind of modern day equivalent of the doorstep chatter which made sure a secret wasn’t a secret for long in olden-days neighbourhoods.

That’s the challenge facing us working with Safeguarding 2.0 to discover how web technology can provide those involved in keeping kids safe with effective new tools which will reap undreamed of rewards in the field of child protection.

The germ of the idea was sparked by FutureGov and we’re working with the Local Government Information Unit, Barnardo’s, Headshift and Think Public as a project team. Initally the aim is to research the needs of safeguarding practitioners, as well as service users, leading to an outline scope of a piece of technology that could be built to help all involved in keeping children safe.

We believe the web can help managers within local authority public services and their staff to meet the increased workload and support rather than burden their vital child protection work.

We want everyone to care passionately about this project and make it their own by chipping in with thoughts, encouragement, criticism and brilliant ideas. The truth is none of us know the complete answer as to how the future should be shaped so everyone involved in safeguarding youngsters is confident they are on the right track. But the tools are at our fingertips and offer a tantalising glimpse of what might be.

Let’s use them.

Safeguarding 2.0 wants to hear from you so that together we can find a new way to help those charged with protecting the Baby Peters of this world. Get involved. Tell us how to do it. Make a real difference to child protection.