Copyright, John Klossner
Public sector data protection = data sharing
Data sharing, often a major stumbling block to joined-up working in the public sector. How to use a systemic approach to thinking about the problem and delivering a different and far easier solution.
Lets start with a real case study and define the problem that this organisation had.
I came across a new data sharing issue in a new Hub we were redesigning recently. In this situation local government Council staff were newly sitting next to and working with the Police. The question was:
How do we now share information between us?
This was a project started to develop the workflows, policies and practice in the Hub. The Police, and Council front line staff were in a multi-disciplinary change team, and the managers were connected to that team.
What the Police Did
If anyone works with the Police you will find that they have a quite different way of making decisions than any other type of organisation. In the situation with the Hub, they made a local decision to share data in the way that supervisors on the ground thought was reasonable. However, when they went and asked their Data Controller, and the Controller replied they could not share any of the data. As simple as that! The Police then spent the rest of the three months in this position - frustrated, but unable to proceed.
The Standard Solution
As is usual, the purpose has to be defined or understood. It will be defined by managers, and may be defined something like;
we need a set of rules on how to legally share data between us, that protects people and allows us to work together efficiently.
This is the usual approach in most organisations to solve a problem like this. They will ask a consultant with analytical knowledge to look at this as a project and study the data. They also need to be fully aware of the legislation, so they ask the Data Controller and get a copy of the Data Protection Act, and read it in detail.
This consultant then takes the data types from a data analyst, and attempts to categorise the data into the categories that make sense, and that show different levels of risk. They would look at the job roles of all the people involved and attempt to make a judgement as to the data they are required to view and why. And engage with the Data Controller and put all the collected findings on the table.
The outcome will be a report, that will be approved, and then circulated down through the hierarchy - as each manager makes sure that their particular concern or point is contained in the final report. In some cases this step in the process can take many months and the problem is seen as:
the needs of different stakeholders, which must be taken into account.
Staff groups are put on a schedule to listen to their managers tell them what the new rules are.
The Systemic Approach
Again, the first step that has to happen is that the problem has to be understood. This is done by going to where the work is. The change team listen to demands coming into the Hub, by actually listening to the conversations. They have to understand the whole problem and what matters to the person making the demand.
The purpose they define for the sharing of information remains undefined.
The next step, after listening to the demand, is to undertake the work - by just doing the work that matters to fix the problem - together with the person.
So what of the data sharing? Well, the example above is looked at by the team, and the key information that was needed to provide the knowledge required to solve the problem is written down.
The above process is repeated several times, until the team understand enough about the demands and the knowledge. They might do 20 or more demands.
Then the team sit together and analyse what knowledge is needed, and where it is usually held. Interestingly it is quite often held in peoples memories rather than simply in a computer.
The purpose they define for the sharing of information now emerges from the evidence.
This analysis is then used to define the agreement on the sharing of knowledge. If a manager does not like this, or wants to add other rules, then they have to work with the team to demonstrate that the evidence proves that this change should be made.
The word data is not included in any document or discussion. The purpose of this exercise is the sharing of knowledge
From a systems thinking perspective, what is important in this problem is not about data, but pertinent information regarding a council officer about to visit the property of someone. As soon as you make it data you have entered the world of concepts and ideas. Systems thinking has to be firmly rooted in the reality of what the the system is really about.
The solution was surprisingly easy, focus on the information - not the data. When there is a new demand, and the council officer wants to know about the what we know about the person making the demand, then they ask a police officer in-front of a computer if there are any issues I need to be aware of when I visit Mr. Smith.
The officer could respond with;
After the demands were understood, It took about two weeks to define, and make into a workshop for staff.
The Difference Between Systems Thinking and our Usual Approach?
Point 1 - there is are no stakeholder needs, as the person and the demand defines the need.
Point 2 - there is no inflexible set of rules that applies to certain categories of demands.
Point 3 - the managers do not initially define the outcome, the evidence does. Then the managers agree the analysis the team undertook.
What is needed is not the data, its the knowledge I need before the visit and during the process. This real need by-passes all data arguments, as the real basis of data sharing is the sharing of knowledge. The sharing of data can be a side issue to the main principle, that is often used when sharing is between people far away from each other and who are unable to collaborate. If you can collaborate with your colleague in the other service, then the sharing becomes one of knowledge - and a different and much easier problem to fix.
In addition, this approach supports the front line staff and is flexible to every situation. So no detailed procedures or rules are necessary - just the creation of a set of principles to work to in a framework that front-line staff can be coached to use.
This is an real example of using systems thinking to the problem of data sharing. The problem is redefined from data to knowledge - which is should have always been in the first place, if the legislation had been looked at from a systemic perspective then maybe the problem so many public sector organisations are having would be made alot easier.
The data protection act in the UK is actually written to help data sharing and to prevent private organisations from marketing our data. But we tend to see it only as the method of restricting communication. Certainly those who wrote it made a big error in the way that it puts across the central concept of what it is about. But, it really does focus on DATA, and in public sector operations we are far more interested in information.
I have been working with a council who, like all of the public sector in the UK, needs to reduce costs - and maintain or improve service. Luckily they did not want to go down the route of simply reducing activities, the director was aware of other approaches. Two years prior, he had already re-organised his Anti Social Behaviour (ASB) officers into a Community Protection group. And they had direct access to working with other council services, social care and mental health through the MASH. Some of these services had been formed in to an integrated Hub.
So, with a Hub what was more of there to achieve, it looked like it was all working well? The director still thought there were improvements to be made. And he was right. I took a small team of front line staff through two steps;
Phase 1 - get knowledge
We looked at the current system, and these are some of the highlights of what we found for ASB;
43% demands actually go unresolved, especially those sent to the MASH.
25% were repeat demands
80% people they dealt with related to the council social housing tenants
The officers were only able to actually add value in 33% of cases.
The front-line team and the managers were shocked! They were already formed into a Hub, so they thought they were working in an good integrated way. This information was unknown to the managers as no-one in the current system was paying attention to this. From the data above, there are opportunities for efficiency gains and better service possibilities here.
The difference with Phase 1 is that the team were looking at the current service from a different perspective to what they had before.
Phase 2 - trial a new design
So, the same team were tasked with coming up with a better way of working. And they started by taking the next random demand in the Hub, and then understanding more about the person who was complaining.
The first demand we took in the new way
The demand from Tracy was help, there is anti-social behaviour around me.
It took two visits to find out:
So, we had given Tracy advice on how to move elsewhere, and given her anxiety coping advice. told us that she had been having great difficulties getting repairs done with the housing provider.
On the next visit she welcomed us with an open attitude of trust. We helped her to deal with the communication problems with her housing provider. She told us that we had given her confidence and that she had been for an interview for work. She had talked to her father and she had more control over that relationship. She came to the council to see about a house-swap.
After a few weeks, Tracy did not want to move anymore. She stopped calling us, and was looking forward to being a mother again. She was thinking of starting an education course. She gave us a 10 out of 10 for our support, which she said that it was our support that was what helped her get her confidence back.
The case study may not seem much, it was a small change in method for the wardens. The different is in the attitude and how the decision-making occurred.
Learning from the Case Studies
To sit together is not enough - its not enough to simply create an integrated Hub, or rely on a MASH team. These are important structural changes, but on their own do not integrated workflow, or develop a new way of working.
We cannot afford it - Many managers reading this probably thinks that this is far too expensive an approach to be realistic - to treat all demands differently. And maybe concerned that our wardens should not become 'social workers'. What actually happened is that our officers already knew how to navigate the public sector network of advice, and we did two important things:
Despite the change in working, the wardens skill set remained relatively unchanged.
We took a total of 13 demands in the first part of the trial, and we followed a similar pattern. Each case was different, but the same officers dealt with each one. When they needed support, or expertise they did not have, they would come back to the office and the new way of working enables this to be available to them.
We recognised, in some of the 13, that this approach is a type of early intervention, contributing to the prevention of complex troubled families.
Outcome - reduction in resources and improved service
What about the outcomes? Well, lets look at the actual figures;
33 - 42% actual less time spent dealing with the demands,
0% repeat demands after six weeks of recording,
Feedback out of 10;
10 - five
9 - two
8 - one
How do you think the manager took this? Well, they still cannot believe it, as it goes against what they thought - that if you deal with a demand in a unique way, that it will cost more.
The manager also thought their staff were already working in this 'listening' way. And due to the enforcement actions of Housing who were trying to cut their own department costs, they learned that this was causing lots of increased work onto the Community protection team.
The service is now in the process of rolling in all their staff to work in the new way. It does not take long, four days for each front line staff, and then everyone will be trained up in the new system. By taking in demands that are mainly low to medium complex, it also slots neatly into two complex family initiatives that is being used in the county.
One of the key changes that has occurred is in culture and management style.
Culture change - the culture has changed to one where officers learn from each other all the time - continuous improvement is now part of how they all work. Each case is written up in a visible matrix, which is visible to all.
Manage the work - the manager brings together teams of officers to review what are on their matrices, and ensure they are getting support when it is needed. the manager remains connected to the real work, rather than sitting glued to a screen looking at prioritised lists.
The public - the demands now are resolved in a very different way. The service user is directly participating in the resolution and takes responsibility get the issues resolved. The officer supports that process.
The next steps
The whole review took four months to conclude, and they have:
Managers in local authorities have been inundated with so called best practice initiatives over the past decade. Maybe, finally, we are being allowed to implement an approach that actually follows the complexity and variability of how individuals and families actually behave. It tackles the real causes... This approach evolves the organisation to a more enlightened way of working.
And its cheaper to do it this way!
The techniques the team used in Phase 1 & 2 were actually straightforward, when they learned the new techniques. They had to:
What was difficult for managers was recognising that staff were not actually doing all these things managers thought they were doing!
The council used a participative approach where the consultant was used, not to do the review, but to lead a team of staff through the transformation methodology. This is ensuring true learning and sustained knowledge is retained in the organisation. It also minimises the cost of using the consultant.
Maybe this approach may slow down the review, it may not discover quite as much. But out of all that I have learned in almost two decades of change, the staff and managers in the organisation must do this for themselves for it to truly work.
The methodology applied here is systemic. The perspective used in this approach is and based on designing work around value and the complex needs of the individual. It is an example of a transformation rather than a change, transformation because it needs managers to change their current perspectives of council services, which then allows so many other aspects to change. The overall approach is through a systems thinking understanding of the work.
The team had to learn about certain key concepts;
It can be easily done by every public sector service, but it requires managers to honestly be open to learning about their service and their approach to management. It has many similarities with the Toyota System, and Demings teachings.
One of the organisations I am working with, a local council, has just done a small trial to test out different ways of taking calls. Originally they have calls, coming from a call centre, going into various departments - depending on the nature of the call.
So, the trial was getting wardens - that normally go on the streets and fix problems, to answer the calls. They also tried this with admin staff from the office.
Over two weeks, they found out one really important thing; that the wardens were able to understand the actual problem the caller was calling in for. In this system Over 50% of calls that come in a not exactly what the caller originally presents. So, a call for reporting a problem with noise, may actually be a neighbour dispute problem. So the wardens were able to have a good conversation to get to the heart of the matter.
When they tried to get cheaper admin staff to take the calls, they were not able to understand the calls in the same way. Almost all of them had to be passed on to others to resolve.
When the more expensive wardens take the calls, what does a manager think who has to cut further costs in the system? It is too easy to replace the wardens with admin staff.
The reality is that the wardens were able to resolve 25% of the incoming calls on the phone, without the need for passing on to anyone else to schedule a visit. For calls that they did not resolve there and then, the information was recorded and passed onto a warden, who then had a good understanding of the issue, to resolve the problem. Armed with this information, what decision would the manager now make?
Usually, using a functional model, the manager would hire cheaper staff to staff the phones. Making decisions based on functions, cutting across the workflow work, sub-optimises the flow, and the wrong decision is usually made. This result demonstrates that by understanding the work flow as a system, end to end, results in good information to make better decisions.
Get cheaper people in to staff the phones - it will reduce our costs
Maximise the value work when taking a call, and monitor the result
This is an example of systems thinking.
Faraham Council have been recognised for transforming its services using systems thinking. A great example of what can be done in the public sector, using the right approach. This approach is also used in Stoke, Yarmouth, and various other clients I have worked with.
Terrific Award for 'Remodelling Local Services'
Fareham Borough Council celebrated last night as they picked up a bronze award for 'Remodelling Local Services' at the prestigious Improvement and Efficiency Awards (IESE) Awards.
Each year, the iESE Awards commend public sector innovation and transformation from public bodies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. There are 11 award categories in total.
Fareham Borough Council was nominated for the award because they have completely remodelled how services are accessed across the Council, whilst at the same time improving the customer experience which has already generated £500,000 in savings per year.
It is not just the services that have been remodelled however. By working with a Vanguard consultant, to work with teams across every service area of the Council, the transformation has extended to the actual culture of the organisation, so that every process is looked at through the eyes of the customer.
Executive Leader, Cllr Seán Woodward says, "Since 2013 we have been working closely with Vanguard to change the way in which we work in order to provide a better service to our customers. We have also achieved very significant financial savings at the same time as providing improved services. Winning this award celebrates the hard work and effort put in to help provide excellent services."
Councils now recognise that local government are facing tough challenges, tougher than they have had to deal with before. What can you do when year on year service improvements are needed, as well as having to remain financially sustainable?
Is this what you thought you would be doing when you first joined local government?
It’s time the public sector got its mojo back, there are clear alternatives to salami slicing
There are a myriad of change initiatives out there; shared services, troubled families, outsourcing, commissioning, demand channeling, lean, etc. Each method has its’ champions ready to convince anyone whose listening that this is the best thing to do.
What are we going to do about it?
Well, we know that doing the same as before is not enough. Salami slicing, improving processes, and outsourcing have been tried and only achieve limited improvements. You can't simply keep doing that.
The only alternative that is fit for the future is to transform your service. By transforming, you create a new approach within your organisation, and with your community. A system is created that has less cost, and its service is delivered in a different way to before. The only way to do that is to redesign your service again - use systems thinking.
When you transform, you don't start from where you are now, to redesign from a new set of principles, using a blank sheet. Its liberates ideas to create approaches that could not have been considered before.
'If your'e in a car, and you want to fly, its no good trying to redesign bits of the car to become an airplane. Its better to start afresh and redesign an airplane from the ground up'
Helping others to learn how to do better things