“The gangs share information better than we do”

Isabel Vincent Isabel Vincent, Dissemination Coordinator
Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing

Last week, we hosted a workshop to explore the role of information sharing as part of our work to support the Home Office Ending Gangs and Youth Violence (EGYV) programme. The Home Office EGYV Team, Early Intervention Foundation (EIF), DWP, Epic CIC and a range of participants from priority EGYV areas, including Nottingham, London and Kent, came together for the day.

Collaborative engagement between a wide range of agencies, from police, education, youth services and Jobcentre Plus to health visitors, A&E departments and GPs, has been a critical factor in tackling gang and youth violence. However, blockages exist around the understanding of what can and can’t be shared between partners, as well as around recognising the potential that some information has for supporting young people at risk of, or already engaged in, gang culture.

With such a broad scope of attendees representing so many different ways of working, I hadn’t expected to hear quite so many similar themes throughout the day, mostly around trust and empowerment of staff. I also hadn’t anticipated witnessing what felt like a collective consensus that agencies should have to explain why they won’t share, rather than why they will.

Themes centred around agencies continuing to work in silos within partnerships due to mistrust of others with the information they hold, or a simple lack of understanding by individuals about the protocols and information sharing agreements held within partnerships.

Other areas spoke of good working arrangements with practitioners on the ground, but also of how they faced barriers in gaining appropriate information from them that could fill in gaps about specific individuals or cases because risk averse attitudes had filtered down from senior levels and created fear about accountability.

In the same way that our #InfoStory campaign brought the barriers around information sharing to life, storytelling proved to be the tool of the day for illustrating how working practices, and often personalities, have such an impact in tipping the balance on the ground.

One experience of a multi-agency, co-located partnership brought some positivity to the day. The team had successfully worked with a range of partners across English counties and international borders to share information with one another, prior to the execution of a one day operation in which all agencies involved shared information in real time. The exercise resulted in the protection of 45 children at risk from sexual exploitation, and 25 arrests. This outcome was attributed to the trust built between agencies and the high-level endorsement to do this, which ultimately opened the doors for collective information sharing.

On the flip side, a less positive story came from a front line worker who had recognised a known gang member from another county, in their office. The young person was known to the worker historically, and although it was clear to them that the gang member had travelled to the other county believing they wouldn’t be identified when recruiting young people seeking social support, the worker had no mechanism to share this soft information with relevant agencies from the youth’s home county.

Examples like this reinforced an emerging notion during the day, that because gang members and young people are aware of the systems and all of the associated restrictions within which agencies work, there is a much stronger urgency for appropriately sharing information about them. The irony, as pointed out by one participant, was that “the gangs share information better than we do.”

The first session of the morning had uncovered an assortment of hoped-for outcomes from the day, ranging from guidance about national recommendations to understanding how to draft an information sharing agreement. However, by the time we’d circulated in groups a few times, recounted many tales from the ground, written on a rainbow of post-it notes and eaten a few sandwiches, I couldn’t help feeling a change in the room.

Simple expectations to receive a selection of tools had turned into a sense of feeling part of a much broader alliance that extended beyond each member’s own jurisdiction, and which empowered participants to draw out specific action points that would help them make steps to improve their local approaches to information sharing – and ensure that the gangs are no longer doing it better.

Find out what happened on the day and keep in touch with our EGYV work by following our twitter account @InfoShareCoE and reading these post event blogs:

You can also read our report, Information sharing: benefits and challenges in tackling gang and youth violence  and use the materials we developed for this workshop which can be found in our policy area at this link.