What are we up to over the summer?

Busy old times here at PatchworkHQ. We’ve reached that point in the project where all the hard work is coming together but there’s still a tonne of stuff to do before we can finally take a breather. A heady mixture of pressure and excitement that makes Patchwork such a great project to work on.

So what have we been up to over the summer?

Were building up to the launch of version 1 of Patchwork on 27 September, yey!! Keep the date free – details coming soon.

Getting to this point has been the result of lots of hard work from the Patchwork team and amazing support from our local authority pilots.

It’s been a particularly intense time for the development team, who’ve spent the last few months getting from a prototype version of the app to version 1. This work has built on the pilots of the software run in Brighton and Staffordshire, and has included lots of feedback from front-line practitioners who have been using the software during these pilots. There are still a busy few weeks ahead for the tech team, undertaking quality assurance and testing but we’re nearly there now. This means we’ll be able to offer version 1 to any area that would like to work with us from September.

Also on the techie side of things, we’re about to go through the tender to be part of the G-Cloud supplier community. This would mean that Patchwork would be available to buy through the G-Cloud store shortly.  So watch this space.

We continue to work with Staffordshire County Council and its partners and Brighton & Hove City to support the change process and get more people on Patchwork. We are also looking ahead to future development of the app, taking into account what users have told us would be useful. A key part of this will be to look at how Patchwork can be used as a tool to support the troubled families agenda. We’ll be working with our local authority partners to make this happen over the Autumn period.

So that’s we’re working on. Just as well the sun has decided not to show it’s face this summer….

So. Does it work? Learning from early evaluation results in Staffordshire

LWT_Training

Hard to believe that we’ve now been piloting Patchwork in some teams in Lichfield District for nearly 6 months – but we have, and we’re now starting to evaluate it and see what we need to do to better improve the tool.

The first step in this was to get users from both the Let’s Work Together and Supporting Families projects – from all organisations – together into a workshop to start trying to find out their views of patchwork, how they’d used it and whether they’d found any problems.

And so it was in the first week of April we got together a mixture of careers advisors, social housing officers, school nurses, positive activities workers, housing officers and people from the Local Support Teams in a room along with our external evaluation team. Over the few hours of the session, everyone was encouraged – anonymously – to provide their feedback and make their suggestions for what could be improved.

I was lucky enough to sit in on the session and hear first-hand the comments of users – all of whom had to continue to provide excellent service to clients whilst trialling the tool for us. Fortunately any  nervousness I had beforehand about what they might say was unfounded. There was universal agreement that Patchwork as a tool was easy to use and practitioners could immediately see the benefits of it, not least because some of them in the room had actively been involved in designing it. We discussed whether the users wanted it, and the good news is “This pilot – practitioners have immediate buy in”, and the message was “we don’t need systems to talk to each other, we need people to talk to each other”. They told us how easy it was to add clients and maintain their own contact details – and how simple and user friendly the whole thing was. One practitioner said how he was surprised at how easy it was to add clients – “it only takes about 30seconds” – at which point another added, “yeah, I just added four before coming over here this morning”.

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. The biggest problem staff had was around talking to the clients themselves about the tool and getting their consent to be added. We discussed at length why this might be and it seems there’s no single answer; it ranged from some client’s fears of “big brother” type technology to some young adults worrying that their parents might be made aware of the services they were using. But this reveals there’s work to be done to simplify what approval is needed before clients are added – and providing material to help practitioners answer some of these challenges when they’re raised.

We also talked about where next for Patchwork and the main message was around linking it to the Troubled Families agenda coming from Communities and Local Government and other central government departments. Practitioners recognise that a child or young adult is deeply affected by their family (however that term can be defined) and we discussed whether this could be built in – “it’s the piece of the puzzle that’s missing”.

There’s lots and lots to work through to see how and whether this can be done, but the team are already going away and discussing what this might look like, what it means technically for the tool and – perhaps most critically – what it means for information sharing.

We’re still evaluating – looking at the anonymous data to provide some stats around how Patchwork’s been used; talking to more and more people about how they used it and what they thought; and trying this all together in terms of any changes that need to be made in moving to version one of the tool.

As we work through these things, there’ll be more updates here.

Kicking off the Patchwork Technology Strategy Group

Image: nebarnix

Already almost at the end of January and 2012 is racing by.

It’s been a busy return to the office post-Christmas and last week saw FutureGov hosting the first cross-council Technology Strategy meeting. This brought together colleagues from Staffordshire and Brighton to start talking about some of the big issues and areas of focus for Patchwork that will be worked through over the next few months. The aim is to make sure our partners are deeply involved in the process of determining the development of the technology behind Patchwork – as well as sharing their experience and expertise.

For a first meeting, we got a lot covered – and made some fairly fundamental decisions. Despite languages such as Ruby on Rails being in no way commonplace in local government, we agreed that Ruby was here to stay. Linked to that conversation, there was unanimous support for Patchwork to be externally hosted  in the longer-term, either in the Cloud or another form of secured storage. Cloud itself is definitely seen as part of the future for both partners, although the details of the commonplace concerns over security are not fully worked through yet but we are beginning to work with a range of cloud providers to ensure we can make cloud a reality sooner rather than later.

As we move into gathering feedback from the users in both Brighton and Lichfield District, we agreed we would need to find a way to make this as visible and transparent a process as possible. Taking a user-led approach means that we want to be driven by the needs of frontline staff, and children and families, where we can – again within the limitations of Information Sharing and what is technically possible. There’s more thinking to be done about how we can start to do this with users from two different geographies, particularly in the potential scenario where their needs conflict and prioritisation of the development roadmap is needed. However we all agreed the importance of having as many channels for feedback as possible, making sure that we let users know what happens to their requirements whether they end up in the tool or not.

For me, Friday’s meeting was crucial element of co-design. We’re not only working extremely closely with the end users, but we’re also actively discussing the broader technology issues with our partner local authorities. These are things that the frontline staff my never see or indeed need to be aware of, but completely shape the direction of the product and how it will operate in the future. It was great to see two partners, both at similar stages of piloting, who are so engaged in the conversation.

No doubt the best bit of our job is getting to talk to and work closely with our partners. Friday a very good day indeed.

“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

Introducing Patchwork – the safeguarding app

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

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

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

Patchwork – the safeguarding app

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

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

In short, Patchwork helps you:

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

Testing the prototype

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

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

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

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

And beyond

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

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.

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

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

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)