Top down or bottom up – or both? An international comparison.

Nicola Underdown
Head of Engagement
Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing

Recently, Stephen Curtis and I had the privilege of meeting Gavin Jennings, Special Minister in the Victoria State Government in Australia, together with two of his team who lead their work on public service reform.  In response to an earlier Royal Commission’s recommendations, Gavin and his team are in the process of reforming services which intervene in cases of domestic abuse, through the introduction of ‘Family Violence’ hubs.  There will be 17 within the state of Victoria – providing a holistic, co-located package of services for victims of family violence, including children, as well as interventions to address perpetrators. 

Underpinning these services will be a system for sharing information in real-time across a range of agencies.  Gavin and his colleagues were visiting the UK to learn about good practice in multi-agency working, particularly services which meet the needs of individuals or families with multiple complex needs, and to hear about good practice in information sharing.

Stephen shared some of the Centre’s history, explaining how we emerged to help support and capture stories of resolving the organisational, behavioural and cultural barriers to information sharing. Our work over the last three years provided a wealth of experiences and practical advice which we could share; suggestions such as:

  • working closely with frontline practitioners to ensure they get the information they need in a format they can use; or
  • engaging early with communications teams both internally and externally to build consistent messaging.

They were all met with agreement and approval.  We also discussed the information sharing challenges which both countries share, such as:

  • how best to develop a workforce that encompasses a range of professions but which all need core, shared disciplines around the use of information; or
  • how to broker connections between professionals who may not co-locate into a hub, but who still have a crucial role to play in providing support.

Throughout the conversation, I was struck by the difference in approach between the UK and Australia.  Although the ‘Family Violence’ hub approach is taking shape at state level (rather than federal level), this still represents a clear push from a devolved administration to deliver reform through an approach which they themselves described as being somewhat ‘top down’ in nature. 

By contrast, the majority of the examples which we shared were ones where local areas exercised considerable local autonomy in the interpretation of national policy, or where they were developing services entirely around identified local need – much more ‘bottom up’. 

Each approach to change brings their own benefits and barriers; the considerable investment in the Victorian programme, for example, being a particularly stark difference.  But in each country, changes to service will only be successfully embedded if those with an influence on service delivery are able to understand the role that information sharing can (and should) play, whether they are senior leaders, frontline professionals, communicators or professional bodies. 

It is an enormously powerful message to all those in the Australian system that the Victorian State Government have a Special Minister with responsibility for implementing these reforms, and it is heartening to know that he and his team have a real commitment to getting the information sharing to work.  Ultimately, despite the differences, the conversation demonstrated the shared passion on both sides to help improve the lives of vulnerable people, through the contribution of information sharing to better services.   

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