Welcome to the latest blog for our Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) funded family context project, the end of this alpha chapter but certainly not the end of the project.  When we began, earlier this year, we hoped to tackle the problem of how best to provide social workers with key information on relevant people in a family and the services engaged with them when they first interact with the family.  What we had discovered was:

  • social workers sometimes have incomplete information which can change decisions and outcomes for children and families
  • social workers waste time chasing information, which they would prefer to spend with the family

We wanted to see if we could apply our data and digital solutions to help ensure:

  • more young people are well looked after by their families and fewer end up in care
  • children are protected from harm even when no single service perceives significant risk
  • social workers are viewed by all families as people who really understand their circumstances and can support them

You can find out more about the project purpose and aims in this summary of the project.

Since our last blog we have further developed the prototype, piloted it with social workers in both Stockport and Leeds, and reviewed the results.  We have shared our outputs in the open for others to view so the learning can be applied to other projects in future.  (Links below.)

The prototype

Throughout the project we have developed several potential options for our prototype, working with social workers to refine and build something that would provide the most value.  As it was an agile project we often employed low-tech approaches and were keen to develop something that delivered the most value for the least amount of effort – this included paper prototypes, digital mock-ups and finally a working prototype using Microsoft Excel for a pilot that would utilise live data.

In order for the pilot to be successful, we had to populate the template with data for the small number of cases we selected.  This involved utilising our data warehouse, a database that extracts data from source systems overnight and re-structures it for reporting purposes.  This allowed us to bring together the data in the most efficient and secure way.  The data was then presented to social workers via the live prototype.

The pilot

Over a few days, colleagues from the project team alongside social workers in Stockport and Leeds, ran a pilot using the prototype to support decision making.  Using the tool in practice really helped to identify how it can help make better use of time and how we can build something that works across multiple Local Authorities.  In summary, the tool helped:

  • area social workers spend less time chasing the necessary information – this could save up to three hours per assessment, time that could be spent with the family
  • area social workers contact other practitioners earlier in the assessment process and have more informed conversations with families
  • to narrow down the datasets that provide most value to the decision-making process in. This will be really useful when planning the beta phase as it will help focus the technical build

Following the pilot, we created a research report and business case, helping to showcase our work in the open and to support the next phase of the project too.  We have now shared our results with MHCLG.

Final results and lessons learned

We have published our research and business case in the open:

Obviously, not everything goes to plan and we wanted to use this opportunity to share what we found difficult and what didn’t work as well as hoped.  A couple of examples include:

  • Time and capacity – colleagues across both councils are incredibly stretched and it has not always been easy finding time in people’s diaries. We’re keen to have more dedicated time in the next phase, possibly having dedicated roles for each sprint.
  • Information Governance – this took about 50 days to complete, somewhat longer than anticipated. The time was taken liaising with information asset owners, completing all the necessary paperwork.  We did learn a lot and we will be able to utilise this learning for the potential beta phase and hopefully other projects in future too.

Next steps

Now that the alpha phase of the project is complete, we are preparing for the next phase. We will:

  • continue with our user research
  • re-visit the information governance requirements, taking into account our findings in the alpha and what are plans are for the beta phase
  • get the perspective of residents on the appropriateness of our approach through a citizen panel, or similar
  • begin planning for the beta phase of the project, identifying roles and responsibilities
  • continue to collaborate and look to involve other, possibly neighbouring, local authorities
  • continue to share our progress in the open, including sharing code, user research outputs and other content we think will be useful

We’re also keen to continue collaborating with other Local Authorities and partner organisations.  Please do get in touch if you have any questions or would like to find out more.

We’re expecting to find out more about the process for the next phase of the Local Digital Fund very soon.

Thank you!

A huge thank you to everyone that has been involved in this project from Stockport, Leeds, MHCLG, Social Finance and beyond.  Everyone’s hard work and perseverance is greatly appreciated and we wouldn’t have made as much progress as we had without a great deal of collaboration and dedication.

We hope to build on this work and it feels like the project has an exciting future ahead.  Look out for further updates soon!