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.

5 Days, 5 Councils – The Universal Aspects of Patchwork


As momentum for Patchwork continues to grow in the UK, you can imagine how excited we were to touch down in Melbourne, Australia, last week to take Patchwork global.  You can read some more about the how this came to be in one of our previous blog posts.

Needless to say last week was a busy week of getting over jet lag, getting our bearings, getting only a little lost in Melbourne (FYI, I count this as a huge success) and most importantly connecting with the 5 councils in Victoria we will be working with.  We managed to catch up with all of them; KingstonYarraCity of MelbourneBrimbank and Wyndham, to find out more about how they work and the difference they want to experience as a result of having Patchwork.

Patchwork will be used in both the Youth Service and the Maternal Child Health Teams, all who have a strong partnership edge to their work.  As you can imagine we approach a project like this with some questions, the biggest of which is  “will Patchwork fit into the context of their work in the same way that it does in the UK?”

We needn’t have worried. It seems there are some aspects to working in this area and with Patchwork that are universal:

1. A Desire to Strengthen Partnership Working

I feel like I can say with some confidence now that almost regardless of place and wherever you happen to be on your journey to truly integrated services for children and families, there is just something about this group of professionals that is committed to improvement. They are always seeking to do more, be better and to improve outcomes for their clients. Here in Melbourne, Patchwork is just one of many things that is going on to strengthen multi-agency working. We hope to be telling you more about some of their other work as the weeks go by.

2. Data Protection is Key

Wanting to protect people’s data and sharing that data to improve client care is also a universal tension. For many practitioners this connects with their own professional ethics and how they approach their role – often grounded in a need to build a relationship with clients and secure consent before they act.  Of course, this isn’t possible in every situation and like many practitioners in the UK, front line workers want to get this right for their clients.  What is really clear is that solutions need to work in a way that support front line workers and strengthens relationships with clients and other agencies rather than constrains them.

3. Trust is Vital to Strengthen Links

Here in Victoria, much work has been done in relation to the Privacy Act and gaining consent from clients so trust is established with their caseworker to both take care of their data but also that they will only share data when there is a legitimate reason to do so. As we work through this we will be sharing learning as my guess is some of these issues will resonate for many front line workers, and across many projects.

We will keep posting on the Patchwork blog about some of these aspects and more broadly about the project as it progresses. Make sure to check the blog regularly, subscribe by RSS for more insights, or get in touch for further info on how Patchwork could work for you.











Patchwork goes live in Brighton & Hove!

This week the prototype Patchworkapp has gone live in Brighton & Hove! This initial trial will last more than 10 weeks and involve just over 100 practitioners from a range of local authority children’s services, housing, community health services and neighbourhood policing.In time, we’ll also be seeking to recruit test users from general practices, schools, fire and rescue and the community and voluntary sector as well, as we work through our information sharing and security to do list.

This pilot period has a number of aims:

  • to test the usability of the newly redesigned app, taking feedback on both versions on the app from Staffordshire and Brighton to better inform the next version of the system (v.1.0.0.).
  • to get practitioners to assess the potential benefits of Patchwork in their daily working lives
  • to get feedback from practitioners around what more they would like to see from the tool in terms of functionality, to help inform where we go next with Patchwork

We’re going to be keeping in touch with practitioners over the next couple of months, asking for their feedback. Together with the pilot being undertaken in Lichfield, this will feed into development of first full version one of Patchwork later this year.

It’s a fantastic milestone and we’re very grateful to all the frontline staff in Brighton and Hove who have taken part in the workshops during the set-up phase, taken time to talk to us and who will be involved in the trial period. We’re also very grateful to colleagues in information governance across agencies who have helped us develop a cross-agency data sharing agreement, as well as the Brighton & Hove City Council ICT team who have helped us to get Patchwork up and running on their ICT infrastructure.

So in summary – thanks and here we go! The level of interest from practitioners to date has been really encouraging and we’re looking forward to seeing what Patchwork can deliver.

Keep an eye on this blog as we will be reporting back on a regular basis to fill you in on what we’re learning through the pilot – the challenges and the opportunities. More soon.

Insights from the Munro Report

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

Mounting paperwork – Photo courtesy of Luxomedia

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

1. Children must have a space to share their stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The review backs this up, stating:

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

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

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

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

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.