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.

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.

The Future is….? Reporting back on part one of Safeguarding 2.0

**UPDATE**

Here’s a short video of the presentations from our recent event, which covers our findings, our ideas for improving safeguarding using web technology and our next steps. This video tells the story of our project from the seed of the idea to the design of a web tool that can make better use of data, give children and their families a voice, and enhance the offline relationships between all of those involved in keeping a child safe.

We’re now looking for a local authority partner to work with us in the next phase of the project which is about prototyping and testing the tool. If you’re interested, do get in touch to find out more about the next phase: carrie [at] wearefuturegov [dot] com

Safeguarding 2.0 from Arun Marsh on Vimeo.

Here are a slightly trimmed down version of the slides presented at this session, recently shown at NESTA’s Reboot Britain 2010 event:

After the event we spoke to some of the attendees to get their thoughts on what they’d heard and what the future might hold…

Last week it was a packed meeting of partners, professionals and those widely involved in safeguarding who gathered at NESTA at the end of the project’s first phase to hear the final reports and listen to Dominic Campbell of lead partner Futuregov uncharacteristically describe himself as nervous.

“I guess it’s an indication of how important this project is to me,” said Dominic who kicked off the project close to his heart which was  born out of frustration in the  wake of Baby P. “To try to help people on the front line do things differently,” he admitted. “How do you put a safety net in place? That is one of the major challenges. Was there a  technological solution?”

He described the conclusion of some pretty impressive research and original thinking as “fairly modest. We have dipped a toe in the water, listened to what is in people’s heads and focussed their minds on this problem.”  Most of all, he and project lead Carrie Bishop believed there had to be a ‘Next Phase’  building on research by thinkpublic and a tool envisaged by technology partner Headshift which would need a local government partner and financial investment. “But for now go away and spread the word and let us have your feedback,” said Dominic.

There was an air of real anticipation in the room as Headshift’s Felix Cohen and Amy Wagner got down to the heart of the matter – what might work for professionals in the light of  frontline research gathered from social workers by thinkpublic. It was introduced by Carrie as “A solution – not a silver bullet.”  Amy said what was important was to provide a simple way to access data, perhaps a collection of small tools. “Think Big and Build Small,” should be the slogan for technology which allowed information to surface and be identified easily. The initial preferred suggestion was a kind of application for a mobile which would be easy to get out of your pocket and make information easier to understand and share. “What excites me is if we can get a mobile platform,” said Amy while Felix said it would offer a non-adversarial relationship between social worker and client. “It then becomes a much more powerful tool for change.”

Which all followed on neatly from a presentation by Ian Drysdale and Jess O’Keeffe of ThinkPublic that presented the results of their research from professionals on the front line of safeguarding and illustrated it with a telling video of the time Jess spent filming a day in the life of Westminster Council social worker Jeffrey as he met some of the vulnerable families under his care in what has to be one of the most difficult, pressurised, frustrating and ultimately most rewarding jobs in the world. The presentation by Ian revealed some revealing information including the statistic that most social work teams in England are operating at  a 60% staffing level with vacancy rates as high as 30%. “A revolving door,” was how Jeffrey put it. He was looking for smaller case loads so that he could feel he was really doing everything he wanted in a job which despite the hardships he described as “incredibly rewarding.”  He emphasised it was the time allowed to build a relationship between the individual and the social worker which really mattered in the drive to bring security. On the other hand, he said the safeguarding agencies’  inability to share information really drove him nuts.

The question which bothered him was how powerless and paranoid a client can feel when even if they are given access to their file to promote trust, sections are blacked out. How can technology empower them and how can it cut down on the overloading of professionals by ridding them of  pedantic systems which they feel do not allow them to think for themselves and cut down on the vital face to face work?

ThinkPublic’s research pointed to a cut in  IT overload by developing technical priorities so as not to create vast data cemeteries. “Social work has evolved and the technology hasn’t,” said Jasmine Ali from project partner the Local Government Information Unit. “We will have to do more with less when cuts are inevitable.”

Julie Pappacoda, head of Integrated Children’s Information Systems at Westminster Council which was on board  from the start of the project facilitating research from its social work frontline, put the vast IT problem (there are 50 stand-alone systems)  into perspective and said the partnership between social work and technology had never been easy.  While many people put this down to a stubborn resistance to technology, she explained that in fact social workers have been disappointed by bad technology design in the past but are still keen to see tools that will make their jobs easier.  She encouraged;  “How do you eat an elephant? In bite-size pieces.”

Safeguarding 2.0 has taken the first bite – and looks forward to the next.

Taking a step into the future – the end of the beginning

Safeguarding 2.0 – Invitation to a Milestone Event

When: 18 May (9am – 12pm)
Where: NESTA, 1 Plough Place, London. EC4A 1DE

The Safeguarding 2.0 project is now at the end of its first phase.  What started as a round-table discussion at the Local Government Information Unit with practitioners and social web enthusiasts has developed into a journey that has uncovered the technological and behavioural challenges facing safeguarding professionals.  We formed a project team withThinkPublic and Headshift, funded by Nesta and ECDP, and working in partnership Westminster City Council. Our research has led us to some important conclusions about ways to help all those involved in safeguarding children, which the project team is excited to share with you.

As well as presenting the findings of the first phase of the project there will be plenty of discussion throughout, along with a chance to talk about the next phase of the project and opportunities for getting involved.

We hope to see you there – please let us know if you can make it by emailing carrie [dot] bishop [at] futuregovconsultancy [dot] com

WHEN we hosted a round table discussion last August on how web technology might offer new and more effective ways to safeguard vulnerable children,  it would have taken a brave person to stand up and say ‘I know where this is going.’  The truth is no-one at that initial Safeguarding 2.0 meeting did know where the project might lead or what inspiration it might produce.

That was the challenge facing a committed team of passionate people determined to take an exploratory step into the unknown in a bid to discover if new technology could reap real benefits for beleaguered social workers struggling to make the world a safer place for kids.

It was a massive ask and without real enthusiasm from the whole Safeguarding project team, might never have got off the ground. For a start at that first meeting, Futuregov and team partners thinkpublic, Headshift, the Local Government Information Unit, and Westminster Council moved forward without even the assurance that technology could or would offer any sort of an answer. The solution, we freely admitted, might be something entirely different.

But as the project progressed, with particular thanks to the in-depth research of thinkpublic who listened and talked to social workers and other professionals,  it became clear that some sort of technology to help everyone involved in a safeguarding team to communicate better was the way ahead. Especially if it enabled the whole story of a child to be more easily recorded and heard and – vitally – acted upon.

Now in a relatively short time, the first phase of the initial project sparked by Safeguarding 2.0 is nearing its final stages and the ideas, thoughts and plans are being pulled together to formulate what imaginative piece of technology could help those struggling against a backdrop of one high profile tragedy after another to cope with the increasingly heavy burden of safeguarding children.  The team’s findings will be presented at an event on 18 May at Nesta, to which all are welcome, which will show what we’ve learned and what we think could help safeguarding practitioners.

What the project has been determined to do is not to foist any new piece of technology on social workers. The real aim has always been to discover what they need and want as well as asking what they believe are the gaps in their present armoury which need plugging. In other words, the technologists at Headshift needed to know what they produced was not only needed, but wanted too.

With the first phase nearing completion, the project team can see that a second phase is viable. The project inevitably has only scratched the surface of providing better communication in what has to be one of the most desperately difficult problems to solve. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, is the often-quoted slogan. But in the light of social services departments such as Birmingham’s being judged ‘unfit for purpose‘, there is no room to judge that something, somewhere doesn’t need fixing. So phase one of Safeguarding 2.0 is merely a step along the way to offer web technology as a tool to prevent mistakes and ultimately save lives.

The challenge of phase two will be for the project team to develop an innovative prototype – but that as everyone knows will need funding from not only a local authority with a stake in the outcome, but from grants and perhaps a partnership with a technology provider like a mobile phone manufacturer.

It only remains at this first-step stage at the end of the beginning for the project team to make its final report pointing up the exciting possibilities ahead. One small step for safeguarding… but a small step leading to a future of endless possibilities.

Photo: tymesynk on Flickr

A day in the life of a social worker

The Safeguarding 2.0 project has made a leap in the right direction in its work with social workers. We know that keeping children safe is high on everyone’s list, but it’s social workers, out there every day on the frontline of child protection in communities nationwide, whose views we must seek if we are to make real progress in safeguarding children and young people. We needed to hear and see at first hand what frustrations or stumbling blocks are faced by those with  one of the most difficult jobs in the world.

What do social workers want and need from the statutory organisations which charge them with keeping some of the most vulnerable safe from harm? What do they think would make a difference to their work? And what could they tell the project about using web technology effectively in safeguarding, for easily sharing key information and improving communication ? This is what ThinkPublic set out to research.

Westminster Council has been blazing the trail when it comes to working with technology. They currently use SharePoint to enable their social workers and their partners to share vital information on the children and young people they support. Safeguarding web 2.0 are learning from this and the locality team to take this even further.

With Westminster City Council backing the project, we were able to talk directly with their social workers who offered ThinkPublic some real food for thought with fascinating insights into what their working week truly involves. They highlighted the difficulties and problems of helping children in danger and dealing with families falling apart, but social workers’ obvious job satisfaction, commitment to vulnerable families and their clear determination to win the very best outcome for them in the face of mounting pressures, were all evident.

ThinkPublic’s Jess O’Keeffe set out on one of the most fascinating and important phases of the project – to record a day in the life of experienced and dedicated social worker Jeffrey. He invited Jess to shadow him and create a documentary film about his work, minute by minute, hour by hour and she created a series of revealing snapshots into the way things work for him.

Jeffrey laid to rest the myth that a ‘thick file’ is seen as demonstrating ‘seriousness’ – Jeffrey, and probably many others, finds such things off-putting and indigestible.  Everyone likes to think they will be praised for doing a good job and delivering quality. Jeffrey also talked about the importance of getting support and supervision in such a stressful job, particularly in view of the natural build-up of emotions in dealing with often painful situations. It’s a key factor for local authorities across the country that are struggling with shrinking budgets and increasing case loads, yet trying to ensure recruitment and retention of social workers.

Workload issues are well-known. The need to put things on record takes up time which could be spent working with families, a frustration for those who go into the job to work with people, including health visitors from across England who have talked to Jess about backlogs of semi-serious cases which could easily become more serious if left unattended because workers were constantly running hard just to stand still.

Social worker Jeffrey confessed to his main frustration being with ICS (the Integrated Children’s System) because it treated him and his colleagues as if they were ‘stupid’. It was seen as patronising and an insult to their rigorous professional training because it enforced a particular model of practice by embedding it in software – not trusting them to record what was important and use their common sense.

Jeffrey wasn’t the only professional with strong views captured on film. A GP said he didn’t have time to attend meetings and that, anyway, the law prevented him giving information on patients. A health visitor felt too much responsibility was being given to those who did not have the training to cope, while midwives talked about relying on faxes to make referrals while admitting the information was sometimes delayed because the machines didn’t work. There was frustration across the board over computer glitches.

After a day with Jeffrey, it was clear that if one thing could make things better for him, it would be having fewer cases so he could do more good for those he was working on. “Being with him was a real eye-opener for me”, said Jess. “People like Jeffrey have so much stress in their job it made me think how difficult it is for them working under pressure with extremely vulnerable people on top of the restrictions of how the job is organised.”

The film will be shown as part of a multi-media presentation at the first-phase round-up meeting of Safeguarding 2.0 alongside work by team partners Headshift whose Amy Wagner and Felix Cohen are leading on the use of web technology in collective, and effective, intelligence gathering within social work.

Guest post: Safety by removing safety measures?

Photo: Cosmic_Spanner

This is a guest post from Safeguarding 2.0 board member Johnnie Moore

Sitting in on Safeguarding 2.0 meetings, I’m struck by how those involved in safeguarding seem overburdened with reporting systems.  This is the impact of well-intentioned but time-consuming procedures introduced in the wake of past failings.  A lot of time appears to be spent in meetings with the aim of improving co-operation between agencies, yet there’s not much evidence to show that this is producing results and many in the system complain of wasting time.

I was interested to read this in Lord Laming’s latest effort: “However, good examples of joint working too often rely on the goodwill of individuals.”  Spoken like a true bureaucrat.  It’s as if goodwill is some optional extra in a system of human care.  A tiresome bias in the game of inventing the perfect system for human control.  I suspect that goodwill is the most important thing keeping the system going, and those in power should be focussing rather more on what will increase it.

It makes me wonder what Hans Monderman would suggest.  Monderman is the Dutch traffic planner who pioneered the notion of shared space for traffic management.  He found that you could improve road safety in many contexts by removing a great many of the signs and paraphenalia normally associated with road safety. It seems that without traditional safeguards, human beings become more aware of their and others’ vulnerabilities and operate more safely. Would social care improve if some of the Lamingesque procedures were removed?

I also wonder what other organisations have wrestled more successfully than ours with delivering safety and care by finding effective rules and regs but also giving people the discretion and time to do satisfying and innovative work?  Could they have some insights to share?

Guest Post: Safeguarding2.0 – making children safer

This is a re-posting of Safeguarding 2.0 steering group member Matthew Rees‘ original blog post

I’d like to tell you about one of the best meetings that I have ever been to; and it was for a good cause too.

Safeguarding 2.0 is an initiative, seeded by FutureGov, that is looking to see how/if web2.0 technologies can be used to help make children safer. Playing chess on Facebook is great fun but can we do something really useful with the same technologies?!

I got involved in the initial scoping workshop, thanks to a Twitter friend (a twend?!), back in August and last week we returned to the LGiU to get an update on the project and to suggest some future directions.

Around the table we had an impressive mix of people involved in different aspects of safeguarding and/or web2.0 and it was this mix that made the meeting so good. I judge the success of a meeting by how much I say (am I engaged and contributing?) and how many notes I take (am I learning?) and this scored heavily on both points. One of the purposes of writing this article is to try and crystallize some of those learnings.

Scoping the problem

As a consultant, my natural instinct is to draw diagrams and preferably a 2×2 matrix but so far I’ve not managed to get below 3×3 when describing the key factors.

  1. The child’s needs are clearly central to the debate and here I suggested that we should invert the familiar needs triangle that shows the neediest children at the top where the triangle is thinnest. If we invert it then the thick end mirrors the physical case file and shows that the needs (and risks) are greater and more agencies are involved with more interventions.
  2. The age of the child is important as that drives things like the balance of input from the child and the family and the agencies involved, e.g. schools.
  3. There are a range of stakeholders involved that goes something like Child > Family > Peers > Professionals > Community (not convinced that’s a linear progression though) and each of these plays different roles and so could be helped in different ways. For example, professionals could benefit from better ways of sharing information and the community could benefit from being able to raise concerns.

Insights

A number of light bulbs flashed for me during the meeting, this is just some of them.

Story telling is what matters. and face to face communication is needed in order to tell the full story about the more complex cases, notes in a case file won’t do it.

Most, if not all, of our processes and technologies are based on our bureaucratic view of the world which often does not match the client’s. For example, we insist on formal meetings at set times whereas they prefer to communicate by text message when the mood is right for them.

Spreadsheets and reports from IT systems present a flat view of the world (unlike the bulging case file). There is a need to use some clever data visualization to better encapsulate a case.

If we can do FixMyStreet, why can’t we do FixMyCommunity?

We need to find a way to include positive messages in any improved communications. If we just report concerns and bad observations then we’ll get swamped in negativity. If a child at risk comes to school beaming and saying what a great weekend they had then we need to capture this too.

Networks are more efficient that hierarchies in dealing with complex situations but you need some sort of hierarchy to get accountability.

Social Workers have made the choice of working with people, not computers, and we should understand and respect this.

Some possible solutions

A few specific ideas came to mind in the discussion but these are just scratching at the surface of what could be done. Some of these are quick and easy whereas others are much more difficult and would probably require Government support.

An iPhone app for social workers could keep track of their contacts for each case and their appointments etc. while out of the office.

A Twitter-live application (there had to be one!) to enable low-level conversations between professionals so that they can share the sort of gossip they would have if they shared a workplace, possibly with some sort of read-only-once technology to address data protection concerns.

A self-help website for older children along the lines of PatientsLikeMe (this TEDtalk shows how it works).

A FixMyCommunity website that allows the general public to notify authorities of concerns they have for vulnerable people, young or old. Obviously there are lots of ways that this could be abused so it’s not an easy option but the benefits could be great.

Virtual meetings (chat, video, text, etc.) to enable children to engage with professionals in a way and at a time that suits them.

Story analysis (this may be what SenseMaker does) to determine patterns from stories and so improve risk analysis.

End note

I think that this project has a good chance of delivering real and important benefits and I am very pleased and a little proud to be associated with it.

Image: three15bowery

Safeguarding 2.0 – the story so far

Round the meeting table

WHEN it comes to meetings, there are (yawn) meetings – and then there are (Ooh!) meetings. The session at the LGiU on Friday at the half way stage of Safeguarding 2.0 turned out to be one of those rare inspirational MEETINGS worthy of big, bold capital letters. Everyone round the table agreed  the gathering to review the project’s progress  was buzzing loudly with hope and enthusiasm.

Right from the start, ideas bounced off the walls faster than Andy Murray’s blockbuster serves and there was some passionate pulling and tugging across the table over the aims and achievements of the project’s ambition to find potential solutions on how to better protect vulnerable children using the power of the web.

The discussion threw up plenty of debate on what had gone before and provided some fascinating paths for the project to explore in the weeks ahead. That included a novel idea from blogger Johnnie Moore who suggested unpicking the complicated organisation and intricate thinking behind something as fascinating and unrelated as a Formula One race team might throw up a  winning chequered flag solution to cut through the “horrible regulation” surrounding social work!  Could it be that the more we have tried to put things right in safeguarding, the more we have created confusion? So taking everything back-to-basics might indeed be the Holy Grail for social workers desperate to spend time with needy families, but  sinking under the burden of forms, systems and tick boxes?

Blogger and school governor Matthew Rees was moved in a post-meeting blog post, to gleefully report that this was one of the best meetings he had been to in many a year. Undeniably what came across loud and clear  from the Safeguarding 2.0 research is that social workers have a massive workload and a palpable fear of anything from outside which could compromise confidentiality and damage relationships with their clients. The feedback too from professionals already mistrustful of technology was that the job was busy enough and they “really didn’t need another ‘gadget’ to work with.”

That was the quandry everyone at the meeting was left to ponder. What piece of technology would, could, should make a difference to ensuring Baby Peter failings never happen? Or as FutureGov’s Dominic Campbell admitted, would the project discover the real solution was no piece of technology at all?

The Safeguarding 2.0 project does take one firm standpoint though. It is important when tragedies happen we never shrug our shoulders and think nothing can be done because the problem is too huge.

Given that firm foothold, the halfway report from project leader Carrie Bishop of FutureGov clearly laid out the story so far on how Safeguarding 2.0 is working to discover what, if any,  web technology can help join up the vital dots to help complete the whole revealing picture of a  vulnerable child’s life in a vulnerable family and so prevent another Baby Peter tragedy.

She emphasised that from the very beginning it was felt the project could throw up  everything – or nothing. That was the challenge at the start-up meeting which sparked huge enthusiasm. Since then FutureGov has gathered together a committed team from the LGiU, Think Public, Headshift and Barnardo’s which undaunted by the mammoth task ahead,  moved the project forward to take a step into the unknown in a bid to  uncover the problems facing professionals and families and build possible solutions.

The project began mid-January with key to the work being the co-operation of  social workers which team member Thinkpublic researchers knew was vital in their bid to build a clear picture of their hectic working day and what innovative piece of technology might contribute to making it click better and more efficiently into place.

So herograms and thanks all round at this point to everyone in Westminster City Council who have come on board to share their thoughts and help the project understand the work challenges they face every day.  It became clear at an early stage that the  social workers Thinkpublic researchers  talked to believe confidentiality is paramount in their work. Those of us not involved with such  acutely sensitive work might be forgiven for believing when professionals seal a  case conference room  to the extent of covering over a glass door panel to protect intimate  information projected onto a wall, we are moving into the realms of  Spooks. Also, surely it is a measure of how technology is regarded as ‘unsafe’ that faxes and paper files are considered okay, but email information and the like are seen as easy to penetrate.  Perhaps too, a  bunker mentality is inevitable among social workers who fear the ever-present glare of public criticism particularly from a tabloid press rushing to blame in the aftermath of failings like Baby Peter.

The mistrust of technology and outside agencies turned into one of  the truly fascinating debates at the meeting with Thinkpublic‘s Ian Drysdale admitting it was taking time to win the trust of busy professionals. He had hoped to show a film of a day in the life of a social worker, but time and opportunity had proved elusive. But as the LGiU‘s   Jasmine Ali encouragingly pointed out, the problems were not insurmountable as the growing co-operation with Westminster Council proved.

Ian Drysdale presenting

Matthew Rees said social workers were proving to be afraid of “something which isn’t happening” when it came to stolen data captured by technology.  He believed the initial challenge faced by Safeguarding 2.0 was to discover how social workers could share “day-to-day stuff” –  the low level intuitive feeling that something is wrong which when collated into a pattern, might  prove vital. “Almost the Twitter of passing on information,” he said.

Amy Wagner,  head of projects at team partner Headshift , saw the challenge as “how can we add to what is being done already. If something doesn’t make it onto the spreadsheet it is lost. Perhaps we can explore ways to catching that data?” That was echoed in three salient points by Carrie Bishop. One; that story-telling by social workers requires input. Two; easy visualisation of  data “more about making sense of the madness.” And three; how to capture low-level intelligence.

So what could be the answer? The halfway report recognises there may not be a definitive answer in a highly complex working environment of relationships and personalities. It also believes much more time is needed to build up trust with social workers to make testing any ‘tool’ smoother.

What would be the ideal at this stage seems to bes a mobile application which would support informal communication and provide visualisation of existing data.

So at the end of an exciting and productive meeting between team and partners, what are the next steps? Well, the project hopes to begin to scope a tool to be built and tested as part of a second phase while continuing to add to an important research base.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on the project so please get in touch if you’d like to be involved – leave us a comment or contact carrie [dot] bishop [at] futuregovconsultancy [dot] com

Meet the team: thinkpublic

team members

The Safeguarding 2.0 project is being delivered by a group of organisations that passionately believe in the power of the web to help improve public services.  FutureGov, the LGiU, thinkpublic, Headshift and Barnardo’s are all working together to see how this idea can be applied to the field of safeguarding, and over the next few weeks we’ll be introducing you to each organisation in turn.

In the early stages of Safeguarding 2.0, thinkpublic is deep into the groundwork of grassroots research. This essential work to find out what social workers need and want is being spearheaded by Ian Drysdale who’s already come up with some fascinating data thanks to co-operation from staff at Westminster City Council who have put aside their understandable and natural reticence to recount with utter honesty their views on what would make a real difference to their work in the field of child safeguarding.

Already some interesting shared facts have emerged which will be translated by Ian into a short film featuring a day in the life of a Westminster social worker, and that will be backed by a written report detailing the views expressed by his colleagues on what changes to formal and informal systems will help them do their job better. That will be presented next Friday at an eagerly awaited meeting of the whole team and interested parties.

So already the machine is moving. Slowly and carefully as it must, at first. The insights gained through thinkpublic’s work will be coupled with the expertise and inspiration of technology experts Headshift,  which we hope will lead to the bright spark of an idea of how social media  can be used as a tool to help social workers.

We’re keen to hear ideas and thoughts about our approach and work so far, as well as possible solutions so as ever please do post comments or email the project manager (carrie [dot] bishop [at] futuregovconsultancy [dot] com)