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:
- 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
- Sufficiently anonymise data such that it no longer falls under the Data Protection Act and work with this data.
- 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…
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.