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.











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.

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.

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


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.

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.


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