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.











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.

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.