Developing joined-up approaches in local government
User Research and UI
How can Barking and Dagenham Council rethink its relationship with primary schools and efficiently collaborate with them in order to prevent child neglect and support children and families at risk early on?
A Partner Information Portal for secure sharing of crucial data between primary schools and the council;
An Interactive Service Guidance that enables school staff to quickly identify needs of families and activate appropriate services to support them;
A New Feedback and Handover Process that enables public services to give feedback to schools for referrals made, and redirects them to other, more appropriate services;
AcrosSilos, a service pattern library which provides a set of tested tools and guidance to enable joined-up approaches within the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham through information sharing and better communication.
THE PROJECT IN A SNAPSHOT
Public bodies and services within local governments often work in silos, resulting in systemic flaws that leave citizens facing the brunt of it. As my final project at the Royal College of Art I was determined to explore how these organisational systems can be stimulated and transformed in order to prevent complex social issues and improve outcomes for citizens. That is why, together with my colleague, Saumya Singhal, I partnered with the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, one of the most deprived borough in UK. After some scoping sessions with the client we set to focus on the specific challenge of preventing child neglect, which comprises 46% of child protection issues. If not addressed, there is a high risk for the child to end up in social care, resulting in negative consequences well into adulthood.
Mapping causes and consequences:
Child neglect has dangerous ripple effects
WHAT I DID
This project allowed me to set a collaborative and iterative process engaging over 25 key stakeholders through research and workshops, despite the constraints of Covid-19. This being a multi-faceted issue, it was key to mobilise a diverse ecosystem of primary schools, public services, commissioners, the Insight and Innovation Hub to name a few. I run in-depth interviews, 4 co-creation workshops remotely, 2 system mapping activities, and 10+ prototyping sessions.
We engaged with all of them through a collaborative process, starting with discovering barriers in the system through qualitative research, defining and prioritising problems to tackle from a whole ocean of problems by evidencing it with research, developing solutions collaboratively with experts in the field, and then delivering through multiple rounds of prototyping and testing.
RESEARCH and INSIGHTS
Through our research, we uncovered multiple barriers that stopped children and families from receiving the right support early on and quickly. These barriers often lead to the situation escalating, resulting in adverse outcomes for the child and family.
Turn the problem into a story —
I sketched this short video to unpack the complexity of the issue, make it accessible and make the problems real bringing the perspectives of the people in the system
I mapped and synthesised recurring patterns of information deficit and lack of communication channels, in the 3 key moments of supporting children at risk: identifying needs, activating support, and receiving feedback.
Enable collaboration between schools, public services, and the Council through effective information and communication flows…
support to vulnerable families early, quickly, and more effectively.
Turning the shared vision into reality, we developed 3 discrete interventions that empower school staff during their journey to support children at risk of neglect. The interventions enable knowledge transfer, and improve the flow of information and communication to facilitate a joined up approach between schools, Targeted Early Help (a preventative service for families) and the council. They allow public services, primary schools and the Council to identify and support children at risk much earlier, quicker, and more effectively.
1. PARTNER INFORMATION PORTAL to identify needs
The Partner Information Portal provides school staff with access to crucial information of children and families at risk. It sits within an existing software used by the Council to collate citizens’ data from across social care, housing, benefits and school census. With the Council holding so much information on vulnerable children and families, my challenge was to define how we can give schools secure access to crucial information, in an easy to understand and straightforward way so they can identify children at risk, and be able to support them much earlier.
2. INTERACTIVE SERVICE GUIDANCE to activate support
The Interactive Service Guidance is a set of tools for school staff that enables them to quickly understand what services would be appropriate for families. It is accessible through the Council website which is already referred to for information. The online guidance provides schools with 4 tools: presenting needs check, service landscape, expectation cards, FAQs chatbot.
3. NEW FEEDBACK and HANDOVER PROCESS to receive feedback and learn
The third intervention is A New Feedback and Handover Process, which enables services to give feedback to practitioners for referrals made. It explains clearly why a referral was rejected, gives guidance and instructions on what to do next and if required- redirects the case to other, more appropriate services.
PROTOTYPING AND ITERATING
All of these interventions are being tested in the borough through different levels of fidelity, in order to create an evidence base of what works and what doesn’t. Some of them are currently being piloted and the rest being developed to pilot.
LEARN, ABSTRACT AND SCALE: A SERVICE PATTERN LIBRARY
While testing the interventions, other services and agencies in the borough became interested in developing them as well, because the barriers we identified are almost inherent to other public sector agencies as well. We learned from our prototypes, and abstracted service patterns that can be scaled to other contexts and issues faced by the council.
The results is AcrosSilos Service Patterns. It is a pattern library that provides a set of tested tools and guidance to enable joined-up approaches and sharing of information between agencies. The library is designed to be used by service development teams in the council, and has the potential to trigger change in other public organisations as well. It collects 11 patterns, organised in 4 main categories: get or give access to citizens’ data, orient practitioners to navigate the local offer, provide information about a service, and redirect a case to more appropriate services. The patterns can be adapted and combined as per needs, and come with instructions and templates that bring them to life.
The implementation of the interventions is still underway and through those learnings we have been continuously informing and strengthening the patterns compiled in the library. The interventions will enable schools and services to get in much earlier to support vulnerable children. They will reduce inappropriate referrals, time taken to activate support, escalations to statutory services, and ultimately, prevent adverse outcomes for families.
Straight from the horse’s mouth — Feedback and reflections from the people engaged in the process
WHAT I HAVE LEARNED - PERSONAL REFLECTIONS
Getting things done in a local government in the middle of a pandemic seemed hard and to turn the shared vision into reality a clear action strategy was needed. Here are some of the approaches I used and which ended up being helpful for this project, also keeping in mind the strange times we were working in.