Making Patchwork Happen in Brighton and Hove

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

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

 Patchwork is not a technology project…

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

It is about connections across agencies

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

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

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

It’s been really helpful to…

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

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

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

And in a nutshell

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

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

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

Patchwork 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…

What are we up to over the summer?

Busy old times here at PatchworkHQ. We’ve reached that point in the project where all the hard work is coming together but there’s still a tonne of stuff to do before we can finally take a breather. A heady mixture of pressure and excitement that makes Patchwork such a great project to work on.

So what have we been up to over the summer?

Were building up to the launch of version 1 of Patchwork on 27 September, yey!! Keep the date free – details coming soon.

Getting to this point has been the result of lots of hard work from the Patchwork team and amazing support from our local authority pilots.

It’s been a particularly intense time for the development team, who’ve spent the last few months getting from a prototype version of the app to version 1. This work has built on the pilots of the software run in Brighton and Staffordshire, and has included lots of feedback from front-line practitioners who have been using the software during these pilots. There are still a busy few weeks ahead for the tech team, undertaking quality assurance and testing but we’re nearly there now. This means we’ll be able to offer version 1 to any area that would like to work with us from September.

Also on the techie side of things, we’re about to go through the tender to be part of the G-Cloud supplier community. This would mean that Patchwork would be available to buy through the G-Cloud store shortly.  So watch this space.

We continue to work with Staffordshire County Council and its partners and Brighton & Hove City to support the change process and get more people on Patchwork. We are also looking ahead to future development of the app, taking into account what users have told us would be useful. A key part of this will be to look at how Patchwork can be used as a tool to support the troubled families agenda. We’ll be working with our local authority partners to make this happen over the Autumn period.

So that’s we’re working on. Just as well the sun has decided not to show it’s face this summer….

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.

So. Does it work? Learning from early evaluation results in Staffordshire

LWT_Training

Hard to believe that we’ve now been piloting Patchwork in some teams in Lichfield District for nearly 6 months – but we have, and we’re now starting to evaluate it and see what we need to do to better improve the tool.

The first step in this was to get users from both the Let’s Work Together and Supporting Families projects – from all organisations – together into a workshop to start trying to find out their views of patchwork, how they’d used it and whether they’d found any problems.

And so it was in the first week of April we got together a mixture of careers advisors, social housing officers, school nurses, positive activities workers, housing officers and people from the Local Support Teams in a room along with our external evaluation team. Over the few hours of the session, everyone was encouraged – anonymously – to provide their feedback and make their suggestions for what could be improved.

I was lucky enough to sit in on the session and hear first-hand the comments of users – all of whom had to continue to provide excellent service to clients whilst trialling the tool for us. Fortunately any  nervousness I had beforehand about what they might say was unfounded. There was universal agreement that Patchwork as a tool was easy to use and practitioners could immediately see the benefits of it, not least because some of them in the room had actively been involved in designing it. We discussed whether the users wanted it, and the good news is “This pilot – practitioners have immediate buy in”, and the message was “we don’t need systems to talk to each other, we need people to talk to each other”. They told us how easy it was to add clients and maintain their own contact details – and how simple and user friendly the whole thing was. One practitioner said how he was surprised at how easy it was to add clients – “it only takes about 30seconds” – at which point another added, “yeah, I just added four before coming over here this morning”.

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. The biggest problem staff had was around talking to the clients themselves about the tool and getting their consent to be added. We discussed at length why this might be and it seems there’s no single answer; it ranged from some client’s fears of “big brother” type technology to some young adults worrying that their parents might be made aware of the services they were using. But this reveals there’s work to be done to simplify what approval is needed before clients are added – and providing material to help practitioners answer some of these challenges when they’re raised.

We also talked about where next for Patchwork and the main message was around linking it to the Troubled Families agenda coming from Communities and Local Government and other central government departments. Practitioners recognise that a child or young adult is deeply affected by their family (however that term can be defined) and we discussed whether this could be built in – “it’s the piece of the puzzle that’s missing”.

There’s lots and lots to work through to see how and whether this can be done, but the team are already going away and discussing what this might look like, what it means technically for the tool and – perhaps most critically – what it means for information sharing.

We’re still evaluating – looking at the anonymous data to provide some stats around how Patchwork’s been used; talking to more and more people about how they used it and what they thought; and trying this all together in terms of any changes that need to be made in moving to version one of the tool.

As we work through these things, there’ll be more updates here.

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!

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.

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.