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.

 

“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

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

Image: Paolo Marconi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onwards!

Evaluating impact in Lichfield and Staffordshire

get connected

Image: Derek Baird

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Insights from the Munro Report

On Tuesday, Professor Eileen Munro published the interim report of her Independent Children Protection Review titled The Child’s Journey.  There’s a clear message within her report: social workers are spending too much time on paperwork and focusing on managerial targets and not enough time on the important work of developing relationships with the children and families they are there to help.

Mounting paperwork – Photo courtesy of Luxomedia

I’m really pleased to see how the report takes a holistic, child-centred approach to assessing the children’s services.  I’m also excited to see it places an importance on relationships (especially after my blog post earlier this week).  There’s a lot more to this interim review however I’ve highlighted two significant insights that I think are relevant to Safeguarding 2.0:

1. Children must have a space to share their stories

“Maltreatment rarely presents with a clear, unequivocal picture.  In general, it is the totality of information, the overall pattern of the child’s story, that raises suspicions of possible abuse or neglect.” para. 2.12

The report recognises that for a social worker to truly understand a child’s current situation and how they can help they must understand the context of their story and their family history.  This rings true with what we’ve been hearing throughout Safeguarding 2.0.  In phase one of the project, Jeffrey lamented how he wished for a computer system that provided a space for him to simply write the child’s story.  More recently, here in Lichfield, I’ve observed how the various multi-agency meetings act as an effective way for professionals to share their various views of a case, and to construct a deeper understanding of the narrative and context of the child.

The report goes further, advocating that children should be able to share their story and vision on their own terms, which is something I whole-heartedly agree with.  Munro is forward thinking when it comes to ICT, making a case that future products should make full use of media:

“Digital stories and photographs, for example, could be embedded in the child’s record providing additional and meaningful information to the child and significantly improving upon what is available with paper documents.” para. 4.29

When conducting research and interviews, I often use timelines and family trees to help capture and illustrate the story I’m hearing.  They’re useful as they offer the opportunity to check back with the respondent that I’ve captured the story correctly, and also as acting as a prompt to go deeper into a particular period of time or relatoinship.  I’m sure exercises like this would prove a valuable way to involve children and young people in recording their stories, and ICT should make this a simple, delightful experience.

2. The system must take (and support) a multiagency approach

By now the idea of a multiagency approach to child welfare is pretty much ubiquitous.  However, it also goes without saying that there are still significant barriers to achieving this.

In last months workshops I wasn’t surprised to hear how front line staff are not always aware of each others’ services and roles.  Specifically we heard about how useful it was for a professional to know someone, personally, within an organisation, as these relationships helped keep them up to date with the changing landscape of services and provision.

The review backs this up, stating:

“Evidence provided to this review also shows the mixed experiences and absence of consensus about how well professionals are understanding one another’s roles and working together.  This emphasises the importance of thoughtfully designed local agreements between professionals about how best to communicate with each other about their work with a family, and supporting those conversations with a locally agreed format for recording the needs of a family and the action and help that will be provided.” para. 2.23

The above recommendation is reassuring, as the Lichfield Strategic Partnership are running the Supporting Families Project to do just that: develop local agreements between the professionals on how they can work together, with the more complex families in the district to better help them.  And this is where I think our product has the opportunity to really add value.  The review goes on to recognise that a common factor to local authorities that have successfully adopted multi-agency models “has been the creation of channels through which practitioners from different agencies can discuss their concerns, either in a meeting room or simply over the telephone.  The value of these informal but strategic conversations is that they enable professionals to exchange ideas without needing to enter formal proceedings.  It is these informal relationships between different types of expert which the review holds to be crucial to improving early year help para. 2.42.”

Now this is where I think technology can really help.  It could provide a really easy way to identify who is currently working with a child, their role, and how they can be contacted.  I’m not talking about a huge, mega-database (read Contact Point) but rather a simple way for a child to consent to a professional sharing the fact they are in touch, and therefore creating an easy way for child, family and professional to see who exactly is in the team around the child.

There will be more on this soon, as we start to sketch up how a product can work in practice, but in the mean time I’d encourage you to have a read of the interim review.

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.