I recently wrote about the opportunity to get multiple jobs done with pam. One of the increasingly important jobs to get done, with multiple activities contributing to success, from a range of partner organisations, is the safeguarding of vulnerable people. On Friday 13th November 2015 the Guardian actually published an article with professionals reinforcing that tackling neglect is everyone’s responsibility.
Positioned against an ever decreasing budget and limited resources, with smarter ways of working available, the old answers might not be the right ones for today. So with the spending review about to bite again is it time to rethink what should be included, and how that works to achieve better, more sustainable outcomes?
If we were starting again, we would not start here…….in fact some of the more forward thinking leaders are considering how they can unify services and create a more integrated solution, beyond the hub and single service concept itself.
Collaboration across agencies has never been more important to deliver safeguarding results so the partnering ethos should be a given. The case reviews and government studies reinforce silo working as a point of failure, and partnering well can drive down costs for all involved too. But one size does not fit all in how you go about your multi-agency safeguarding.
As a partnering specialist myself I can understand why the rise of the MASH (Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hubs) has happened alongside existing services. As a generic high level model of collaborative working from one shared physical place it is pretty well understood as a vehicle to facilitate success. However in reality MASH means different things to different people. Just putting a bunch of well meaning people in a room together does not equal success. Even more so nowadays with the growth of private & third sector outsourced delivery, and an increasing prevalence of competition across boundaries and chasing of limited funding pools. So what might work?
There are some common areas of partnering failure which I discuss in my book. Reflecting on those and focusing for safeguarding specifically, my top ten tips for success include.
- Start with the end in mind. Having a big hairy audacious goal (BHAG) will align the partners and allow the vision to be emotionally as well as strategically compelling. In this climate, salami slicing, efficiency savings and corporate risk management come to the fore whereas it should still all be about the people you are there to protect. Even if you have to act short term, inspire the team to remember the bigger picture.
- Get SMART on your goals. Also check the purpose aligns with each partner to ensure that all participants have some value to give and get. Putting timelines and numbers on those goals will also be important. One agency discussing its collaboration scope was prepared to share 5 cases, another partner in the network imagined 5,000; a real disconnect in expectations. Some agencies will also want to see immediate benefits whereas others will see their results over a longer term.
- Investment should be relative to reward. Investment in the collaborative initiative by the partners should be associated to the benefits arising for them. But remember, to drive down long term demand, other agencies might initially need help with their root cause issues as their work impacts your demand. Innovation and transformation funds can clearly help pump prime initiatives but consideration should be given to the future sustainability. Benefits realisation and Return on Investment are rightly growing in importance.
- Recognise the local agency system is different to the multi agency system. There are obligations for agencies in the way they work and record information internally. The multi-agency ‘system’ has often had problems in getting stuff done because of the implicit and manual ways of working, arising from little specific investment. It has resulted in constant repetition, poor visibility of work, and a need to physically get together at planned intervals (if not colocated). With solutions like pam on the market, those old ways of multi-agency working can be challenged, to allow more virtual working with fewer better focused meetings, faster time responses at lower cost and earlier time to benefit for the safeguarded subjects.
- Get yourself a simple ‘blueprint’ of the work to be done. When we work with clients we help create a picture of the work in scope. Some safeguarding units will perhaps only focus on triaging referrals. Others will think more about the opportunity to deliver other safeguarding work, as illustrated in the simple blueprint picture on this page.
The more you can do with one shared (technology enabled) system, the better. Think about how all the related multi-agency work can get done from one place, not just part of it.
Your scope might also include more universal integrated service delivery for example merging (say) adults with children, combining MARACs and other multi-agency thematic areas like troubled families too. Whilst collaborating on specific thematic work is positive, joining up those thematic areas together also allows people and their environment to be treated holistically, at lower cost.
- Create a sense of urgency and realise the power of small wins. You need that BHAG and the blueprint, but less is more to grow confidence initially. Prioritise your blueprint work with a simple prioritisation matrix like the example shown below and then select work to change that offers fast results and good returns.
Habits can be good in a stable work environment, but when it comes to making change they can be a pain to address. In the multi-agency system it is possible that some bad habits will have emerged because of the lack of investment in better ways of working; meetings for the sake of it, travel, same old processes, email, spreadsheets, following out of date policies etc. Ask yourself what you need to KEEP, STOP, START doing in order to improve the overall system and where the habits need to change. Then explicitly concentrate on those habit areas as part of your change management communications.
- Relationships are important but remember they are temporary. People move on frequently so you need to find a way to retain that collective memory to avoid the extra cost and risk of starting again each time. This can only come with a shared technology solution.
- Develop trust in the ‘system.’ It is important for the people collaborating to have a degree of trust (wrapped around sensible safeguards) but stakeholders also need trust in the processes, tools and technology as well. Ask yourself what else you could be doing to have trust in your ‘system,’ beyond the people. It includes visibility of work, clarity on who is doing what, its governance and audit trails.
- Colocation is good but understand it has weaknesses too. The growth of MASH (hubs) has merit, and people working closely together is good to a point. However when you consider the actual service delivery requirements might span hundreds or thousands of front line practitioners, hubs do not scale. There can also be problems with physical space for colocation too. One set of partners were debating about where to host their hub, when they realised that virtual working with a shared technology tool might be a better option for agency resource optimisation, overcoming political and cultural issues, and offering financial savings too.
- Information sharing is key, but delivering on promises is what matters. The government has made a big deal about information sharing and rightly so when it has come up time and again as a point of failure. However sharing the information is not enough; you need to take action and demonstrate delivery of those promises. So often we have heard that people have shared their information, even when it has been challenging with those old ways of working. What has not happened consistently though is effective decision making, or completion of the work that followed the sharing. Consider what tools and systems you will use to deliver and demonstrate the work actually gets done.