It’s never too late to learn

Kathryn WardKathryn Ward, Engagement Manager
Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing

The Centre works alongside an academic advisory panel which provides input, insight and independent thinking to our work and is currently in the process of running a three-year seminar series, funded by the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC).

The seminar series is a three way partnership that offers an opportunity for front line professionals and public service policy-makers to exchange academic papers and thoughts on information sharing in a range of different contexts. By bringing together such a variety of professionals and disciplines, the series aims to foster knowledge exchange, build capacity and inform further academic inquiries.

Last week, I attended the panel’s families seminar at Bradford University where the focus was on multi-agency working in an environment where the customer or service user was not one individual but a group of connected individuals, i.e. a family.

Over 40 people, including local authority staff, PhD students and Early Career Researchers, attended the seminar to hear a range of speakers deliver, among other areas, an overview of the Government’s Troubled Families Programme by Leeds Families First. Insights around the impact of differing IT information standards and use of terminology when sharing family information, as well as thoughts on how Nordic countries approach family relationships and interactions with local government, provided good food for thought throughout the day.

The seminar also offered me the opportunity to learn and reflect on what a family actually is.

Political parties see ‘the family’ as important, often prioritising references to help and support in manifestos and at the introductions of policies. However, this professional version of a family – involving birth certificates, genograms and next of kin requests – often differs largely from a family’s own view of itself, where photo albums, storytelling and wider relationships i.e., with non-blood related aunties and uncles, are considered as more significant.

I came away contemplating how these two versions of a family can interact and wondered what tools and support can be developed to aide a level of information sharing that would produce a complete picture of them both combined.

A session on domestic abuse was also of particular interest to me on the day. Doctor Kate Cook from Manchester Law School spoke about her work with the Platform for International Co-operation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM). Listening to Kate and the academic arguments she presented has given me a new impetus and focus on the work I am undertaking with local places, including Blackpool, in relation to the importance of information sharing when commissioning new services to support victims of domestic abuse.

Whilst the Centre focusses on the cultural aspects and barriers to information sharing, we do not forget the importance of ensuring the compliance of relevant legislation and use of the right tools and language, to ensure that information sharing is also carried out safely and appropriately.

In Blackpool, the Centre will be working in partnership with the Public Services Transformation Network and New Economy. Our role will be to support the area in removing some of the blockers to information sharing and together, we will work to help join up services so that domestic violence victims receive the best possible support. Drafting case studies to inform future service design will be one of the methods we will use to do this.

Overall, the collaborative approach in the delivery of the families seminar worked really well and it exposed a wealth of academic papers and information to support my on-going discussions with local places, helping them to achieve beneficial and successful information sharing.

I may well have been the only delegate who left school before my sixteenth birthday and who didn’t go on to university, but I did offer the day’s discussions thirty years of frontline, practical experience and personal family observations.

Through reflecting and summarising the seminar at the end of the day, I was able to stress why it is important that as academics and public servants, we must remember that the impact of our work will always be felt on very real people.

As you can see from my background, this series of seminars is for all walks of life and experience and I would encourage you to attend (they are free). There are ten more events to look forward to and you can learn more or register your interest here.