Reach back and get it

Stuart BoltonStuart Bolton, Engagement Manager
Centre of Excellence for Informaiton Sharing

Sankofa is a word in the Akan language of Ghana that translates as ‘reach back and get it’. It is also the Asante Adinkra symbol of a bird facing forwards with its head turned backwards.

Often associated with the proverb that translates as, “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten”, Sankofa has become a representation of the need to reflect on the past to build a successful future.

I was introduced to Sankofa by Matilda MacAttram, Director of Black Mental Health UK during a presentation she made at the recent Home Office and BMH UK Policing and Mental Health Summit, which was attended by the Rt Hon Theresa May, Norman Lamb and Mike Penning, along with a host of other leaders from the public and independent sector.

When I look back on my own experience working for various public and third sector organisations, including Sheffield City Council, Sheffield Health, Turning Point and SOVA, I can see how my colleagues and I were often so focussed on passing milestones and hitting targets, all the while keeping an eye on the horizon, that we sometimes neglected to take the time to pause and reflect.

In fact, with the huge pressures on local areas to make transformational changes at a significant scale and rapid pace, there are real tensions in using that very precious resource of ‘time’ to stop and look back. However, if we neglect to do so, we risk losing out on a wealth and richness of understanding that should be gained from our experiences.

Ultimately, we also miss the opportunity to apply this learning to improve public services and realise better outcomes for those individuals, families and communities we seek to support.

The nature of the work in Cornwall and its Living Well Pioneer Programme, has centred on looking back at individuals’ stories and reflecting on their past experiences to explore how better information sharing can help shape health and social care within the community. Similarly, every month Melton’s Me and My Learning programme reflects on case studies from each of its providers, to understand and share learning of the programme’s participants’ journey, and to shape their next steps.

At the policing and mental health summit it struck me that Sankofa is a good representation of how the Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing works. Our support enables local areas to reflect and shine a light on the barriers or blockages to effective information sharing. It is often only through taking this time to consider the factors that have led up to a position of impasse, that local areas are able to see beyond the immediate technological and information governance issues associated with information sharing and recognise the cultural issues that lie beneath.

So in the midst of your hectic daily work, remember that image of the bird stretching back and take time to remind yourself and your colleagues to ‘reach back and get it’.