Patchwork, Culture Change and an elephant

An overdue post on Patchwork..

As we approach the launch of the next phase of Patchwork in Brighton and Hove, I wanted to reflect on how we have reached the more open and creative engagement we are now seeing with teams of professionals across the city. People are starting to really focus on the potential of Patchwork to disrupt and improve front-line practice. That is incredibly satisfying after a year of hard groundwork.

Before looking back at the groundwork year, I wanted to show you what the next year might look like, so that we can get a sense of the journey Brighton and Hove is on.

Phase 2 (Nov 2012-Mar 2013) – Community Creation

  • We’re going to publish a roll-out plan so that agencies and users can see the community of agencies grow over time and understand how Patchwork’s being used. Community and voluntary sector agencies can now join as we have worked through the technical barriers.
  • To make sure Patchwork is immediately useful, we’ll ensure all early intervention (Family CAF) and “troubled families” clients are added on Patchwork at launch
  • We are finalising a pilot with adult services (and the legal work is well under-way).
  • Engagement conversations continue across all children’s and adult services. We’re getting better at helping agencies understand when they should use Patchwork, which is aimed at supporting “vulnerable” service users. For some agencies, all clients will fall into the category. For others, only some of their clients will.
  • We’re creating a community of “agency champions” and carefully considering with them if an online community would work.
  • Developing leaflets, posters and a website resource to explain Patchwork to both professionals and service users and share documents and news
  • Contributing to the design of family/group functionality in Patchwork, for launch in the new year (again, legal work under-way).

An Emerging Phase 3 – Design Projects

While the current phase is ratcheting up, I’m thinking about a phase 3 in Brighton & Hove, which is about design projects in places where the right blend of problem and problem-solvers exists. We have a one day workshop coming up involving some young people in care to look at their experiences of the system. We also have work planned around “supporting families” which will directly involve parents alongside front line professionals. This will be sponsored by our Troubled Families initiative, Stronger Families, Stronger Communities. These design projects will help us understand better what we need (and don’t need) from digital tools and where our ways of working are causing problems. But more importantly, it’s also how we are providing more spaces for open and creative innovation from the people who are best placed to do design – service users and front line professionals.

Phase 1 (Nov 2011-Oct 2012) – Creating Safe Ground

At the beginning of phase one of the project, we launched to a big and enthusiastic audience. Multi-agency communication was very clearly a big problem. But there was one huge elephant in the room that didn’t take too long to start charging around, trumpeting loudly, knocking tables over and scaring people. Information governance. It was something we knew would be a key issue, but in all honesty, we didn’t at that stage have a convincing enough answer for people who were nervous about moving what was often standard off-system practice into an auditable online space. We had to respond to this.

As I outlined in my talk at the Patchwork launch, getting a solid answer to the information governance question took absolute priority. In fact it turned out we couldn’t move far with any workstream until this work was done and communicated. Engagement was often difficult, with understandable scepticism in some teams. There were interesting differences between different staff groups and there was a sense at times that other issues might be hiding behind the legal question – stuff that we couldn’t get to until we tamed the elephant. We did the legal work, we answered the questions. We designed a pilot that was appropriate for the cultural stage we were at (limited agencies dealing with less sensitive issues).

Over time we tamed the elephant .. and look at him now ..!

(Copyright Random House Children’s Books Elmer the Patchwork Elephant)

Now that I’m speaking to people again in preparation for the full launch, there’s a sense that most people have really begun accept that the broad, thin connecting base between public service professionals is legally and technically possible. Indeed, it is necessary! And of course, the fantastic support from decision-makers for phase 2 has sent a clear message. (Big acknowledgement to Steve Barton for that).

Let me digress very quickly to explain the case we made: We have successfully argued – for children so far – that professionals knowing about each other’s existence is the minimum necessary for co-operation. It’s simple isn’t it, which is a great sign.. You can see the main legislation we are relying on here (Children Act 2004, Section 10). And we hope to argue similarly for adults (will let you know!). It should be noted that “minimum necessary” is something that we can keep looking at as we go forward, balancing privacy with the need to be more effective in a multi-agency context.

With our now clear message on information governance, what I have been finding in recent conversations is a much greater willingness to engage on the potential of the tool. We have always had our enthusiasts, but we’re now seeing previously cautious teams get engaged with the possible benefits. We’re also learning how to describe these more clearly, perhaps with a greater sense of confidence!

The other day I had a great conversation with a team that works with children. We were thinking about the impact of them being connected through Patchwork with a professional delivering services to the child’s father. This doesn’t tend to happen at the moment through other means. As the team considered this, there was some trepidation – is that OK? – but quickly winning out was a sense of how useful that conversation might be and how much more effective the work could become with the family. Six months ago I think we would have got stuck on – is it OK. But there’s more confidence now – creative thinking is beginning to flourish on this safe ground we’ve created.

So whilst there will be other wild animals to tame along the way, I think we’ve shown we can do it, and do it by the book. We can open up clear spaces for professionals. This is enormously helpful for a system which has over time invoked fear among professionals and led to a kind of constipation.

I’m looking forward to phase 2, working with professionals in this cleared space and helping create a community. But I’m REALLY looking forward to working with service users in phase 3. We are very conscious of them not being here and know they need to be at the heart of things as soon as possible.


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