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 goes global as pilot kicks off in Victoria, Australia

mav2

In our first major step into working with local public services outside of the UK, Patchwork will be launching in Australia over coming months, kicking off a pilot with a consortium of councils thanks to our partners MAV (or Municipal Association of Victoria) and a number of local councils.

Originally designed with frontline practitioners in Lichfield and Staffordshire, Patchwork will soon be used by local government 11 time zones and 24 hours travel away in Victoria, Australia.

Over the next four months we will be focused on training up a cohort of early adopters and enthusiasts to see how Patchwork can help to better coordinate their work in supporting families and young people to provide them with the best possible support. A team headed up by Patchwork lead Kirsty Elderton will work with practitioners to get the councils up and running and making the most of the system, improving ways of working and outcomes in the process.

Working alongside Kirsty are our Aussie design partners, DMA. Mel and Justin will work with Kirsty to both support the roll out, evaluate the impact but also take a specific look at Maternal and Child Health Services, mapping out where technology and service change could help a rethink in how M&CH practitioners are supported to do their job.

We’ll be blogging progress as we go, but for now here’s the press release circulated by MAV today.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Patchwork to pilot more connected family and youth services

19 March 2013

A new pilot project will work with a consortium of councils to transform the way governments interact with vulnerable families in maternal and child health, and youth services.

Cr Bill McArthur, President of the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) said Patchwork was a simple social technology solution to connect staff from different agencies working with clients in common.

“FutureGov, a leader in technology-led public service change will this week meet with Melbourne councils who have expressed in-principle support to participate in the MAV-funded Patchwork pilot.

“We hope to build on the success of the original UK Patchwork project developed by FutureGov.

“Using a simple web application, UK families have benefited from the administration efficiencies of agencies sharing and updating information when working with the same vulnerable clients.

“Patchwork can improve collaboration, offer joined-up services from multiple agencies, lead to earlier intervention where required, and deliver better outcomes for families.

“It builds a full picture of client needs while also achieving time and cost savings.

“While the MAV’s initial focus will be on maternal and child health, and youth services in pilot municipalities, the project is potentially applicable to a wide range of human service areas in which councils are involved.

“Once the pilot is complete, we will explore the opportunity to roll it out to all Victorian councils, and to create links with other public sector and community agencies.

“We have also briefed several State Government departments interested in being a part of the pilot,” he said.

The UK company FutureGov uses design, technology and change to rethink how local public services are delivered. Dominic Campbell, FutureGov’s founder is in Australia from 18 to 22 March to discuss the Melbourne Patchwork pilot with the MAV, interested councils and State Government departments.

Dominic Campbell said the FutureGov team was passionate about local government and excited at the opportunity to work with forward-thinking colleagues at the MAV and councils in Victoria to implement an innovative solution to joining up local public services.

“There is a real opportunity to rethink how frontline services are supported through well designed, user friendly technology and we hope to help play a part in this in Victoria,” he said.

Kirsty Elderton, Patchwork Program Manager will be in Australia to work intensively with pilot councils and other program partners from April to July.

– Ends –

For more information about Patchwork: http://patchworkhq.com 

Contact the MAV President, Cr Bill McArthur on 0437 984 793 or MAV Communications on (03) 9667 5521.

 

Patchwork now available to all local authorities to support work with children and families

It’s three years to the month since we first shared our idea with the world. Today sees us celebrate the launch of version one of Patchwork at our Working with Troubled Families event.

Today really marks the start of a new phase for Patchwork. The official, post-pilot launch. Yes you heard it right. The launch to market of Patchwork – the multi-agency app.

The last three years have seen us take an idea, work with practitioners and their clients to test the concept, understand the complexities of multi-agency working, overcome information sharing and consent challenges and design something which elegantly starts to reinvent how technology can support practitioners to do an even better job of safeguarding children and older adults and supporting families.

We’ve come a long way in the last year in particular thanks to support from our funding and implementation partners. We’ve built on the pilots in both Staffordshire and Brighton, and included lots of feedback from frontline practitioners who have been using Patchwork As well as responding to specific requests around the what and the how of the technology, there has been a complete overhaul of app’s design, user experience and security.

We’re also delighted to announce that for version one we’ll be working with SCC to provide an appropriately secure service for Patchwork users building on their government grade cloud infrastructure.

Todays launch event will feature a panel of speakers from local government as well as independent experts in Children’s Social Care. They will share their stories about untangling the complexities of the troubled families and safeguarding agendas and explore new approaches being used around the country. We will also showcase version one of Patchwork and discuss how digital technology of this kind can be used to support these agendas.

And the hard work doesn’t stop here. As version one is rolled out to our partner authorities, Staffordshire and Brighton and Hove, the development of Patchwork will continue to remain an open and collaborative process that has users at it’s heart. We already have a long wish-list of requests for post-version one that we’re ready to get started on – and we expect they’ll be a lot more. A key priority over the Autumn is to develop Patchwork so that it can be used as a tool to support the Troubled Families agenda. Visualising the team around the family has been a key ask from practitioners, and it’s something that we are committed to developing for the New Year. So watch this space!

Last but most definitely not least – the thank yous

So many people, so much generosity and so much support in helping us get this far. Forgive me for sticking (mostly) to the headline supporters of the project. I would love to list each and every person who has played a role by name but I may save that for another blog post. You know who you are, we do too. And we can’t thank you enough.

In chronological order, thank you…

Round table participants
ECDP
Westminster City Council
NESTA
Lichfield District Council, Staffordshire and other local partners
Brighton and Hove City Council
Nominet
SCC

And most of all thank you to my devoted and hardworking team at FutureGov who have gone above and beyond to make today a reality.

We’re at the end of the beginning. Now onwards…

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

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.

Building relationships

A lot has been happening in Lichfield this past month.  I’ve been meeting lots of people who work closely with families, children and vulnerable adults.  It’s been great hearing their stories and I’ve always come away feeling inspired by their relentless enthusiasm for the job given the challenges they face.

What’s struck me is there’s clearly a role for better products to support them in doing their work.  While it’s been fascinating seeing how current systems are used to manage their cases, I’m amazed at the amount of patience front line staff have in using them.  I think it’s fair to say that much of what is used was not developed with usability in mind.  Computers running terminal interfaces, displaying dense screens of data prefixed with acroynms appear perplexing as an outsider, as does the need to trawl through nine or so systems to look for a particular record.  Every time I told someone that we were going to build something ‘delightful’, I was met with a wry smile.  But to me, this is really important.  What we build must be pleasurable.  It must take away some of the day-to-day pain of the job.  If it does this successfully, inevitability it will be used.

So with that in mind, we hosted two important workshops last week.  They were a chance to bring together staff from across the organisations—district nurses, youth workers, social workers, fire technicians, police, teachers—to reflect on what we were learning and to help shape the specification for the product. There was a fantastic turn out for the workshops and as we went around the room stating why each of us was there that day, it was clear that there was a general feeling of how important interagency working, and sharing, is.

“I’d rather be in court defending why I chose to share information, than why I didn’t.”

Broadly the days were split into three parts:

  1. Hearing from front line staff what helped them do their jobs and what were the barriers.
  2. Showing participants what we mean by ‘delightful’ products, and point towards the sorts of things we think could be built to support them.
  3. Gaining an understanding of what information about clients that they found useful.

Particpants mapping information they feel is valuable and what they’d like to know from other agencies.

We’re still very must in the thick of reflecting on the material coming out of the two days, however for me the main theme that emerge was the importance of the relationships between professionals in different agencies (and of course the client) when working with people with complex needs.  That might sound obvious, but on the other hand it became apparent through discussions that developing relationships can be difficult.  We heard how people don’t always know which other organisations are involved with a particular client, and when they do know, it’s not always clear which professional is responsible.

So that’s got us thinking from a different angle. Previously the product proposition was that surfacing data stored within the various silos was the way forward.  Now it feels more valuable build a product that supports people to build relationships, both across agencies, and with the client.  If we tackle this successfully, it will lead to more trust and ultimately easier exchange of information.