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.