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.

Evaluating impact in Lichfield and Staffordshire

get connected

Image: Derek Baird

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lichfield Council kick off Patchwork pilot

Front line staff learning about Patchwork

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bob Haynes, Community Safety Officer at Lichfield District Council

Practitioners signing up to Patchwork

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

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

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

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

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

Introducing Patchwork – the safeguarding app

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

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

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

Patchwork – the safeguarding app

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

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

In short, Patchwork helps you:

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

Testing the prototype

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

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

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

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

And beyond

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

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.

Working together to support families: kicking off phase 2.0

As we’ve seen throughout this project, keeping children and adults safe is a complex undertaking that needs government and non-government agencies to work together.   Despite the great progress that has been made in how these services are delivered in recent years, sharing information is still difficult and can get in the way of putting the family at the centre of the work of practitioners.  Complex IT systems and ways of working bury the day-to-day details of family situations and take away from the time practitioners can spend directly working with children.

We’re excited to announce that, supported by NESTA, FutureGov will be working with Lichfield District Council and its partners to now take the project on to the next stage, building and prototyping a social tech tool specifically for Lichfield’s needs.

Lichfield Strategic Partnership is developing two new projects, Let’s Work Together and Supporting Families, to help practitioners from different organisations, like the District Council and Fire Services, to work better together. We will be supporting their work by developing new ways for child protection practitioners to communicate using modern, human and intuitive technology centred on the family.

I will be leading the research and design based here in Lichfield.  Over the next 6 months, I’ll be blogging what we learn and reporting on progress.  To me, this is an exciting opportunity to produce a practical example of how social technology can support change.  To date, I’ve been meeting with the various people involved with Supporting Families and Let’s Work Together here in Lichfield to understand their roles and ideas for how the product could be developed.

The idea is to make a simple piece of software that shows information about a case and the agencies involved.  It will be designed by and for practitioners.  Staff will be able to see, at a glance, useful information to help them better understand the case, and support the child and family. Importantly, the tool will securely link with existing IT systems, giving a view of children and families across local agencies.  As it is built over time, the application may also offer a space for people to add their thoughts. The tool that is developed will be subject to rigorous security and confidentiality requirements from each of the agencies before it goes live.

This is very much work in progress and at the end of this 6-month project the software will be developed so that it can be used and tested by practitioners, individuals and families across the District.

Last word has to go to Nina Dawes, Chief Executive at Lichfield District Council, and her team as well as Carla and her colleagues in the Public Services Lab at NESTA whose enthusiastic support has made this phase of the project possible.

More soon, but in the meantime if you would like to get involved or share insight from your own work, we’d love to hear from you.