The UK government is already beginning to embrace using information to help citizens, and is in the process of shifting its agenda from “resolution” to “prevention”. Rather than fix problems as they arise, the idea is to identify issues that cause harm to vulnerable children and adults and to stop them from happening. The concept of Government as a Platform (GaaP), if developed correctly, has the ability to support this agenda, significantly reducing the potential of harm to the citizen, whilst simultaneously reducing the costs associated with them.
Historically, central government and public sector agencies all maintained distinct datasets to meet their specific roles – GP surgeries keep health records, while the Home Office hold immigration records. This works on an immediate level, but doesn’t provide the context for an agency to see the bigger picture of a potentially at-risk citizen. Collaboration between government agencies, both local and central, is an effective way to overcome this challenge. A change in the way government operates is required, and multi-agency collaboration (MAC) – the sharing of information and resources between agencies – promises to ensure a clearer picture is drawn to help at-risk citizens. It will help create a safer society in which authorities understand risks and vulnerabilities more thoroughly and can intervene early to prevent harm.
Currently, no single person or agency has quick, easy access to information across agencies. While they and other interested parties – police officers, social workers, teachers – are doing their utmost, their actions are limited by the information available. Until agencies collaborate and share records, identifying vulnerable people, who may, for example, be at risk of suicide or domestic abuse, will be difficult. Victoria Climbié is one example of the tragic consequences of the lack of information-sharing between agencies. She had touch-points with government departments including the Home Office, Department for Work & Pensions, and the health and education departments. A lack of communication between organisations led the teachers, doctors, and social workers she regularly saw to believe Victoria’s disheveled appearance and injuries were being seen to by others.
By working together, public sector agencies can deliver value that would be difficult to deliver individually. Collaborative working between government agencies is developing – for example, the introduction of Local Strategic Partnerships and Multi-Area Agreements aims to bring together multiple agencies to work at a local and regional level. Whitehall and local governments are considering Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hubs and collocating staff for improved collaboration. Such efforts are a step in the right direction, but rely on people identifying what “should” be shared. Even the most skilled teams are unable to make linkages between incidents as effectively as modern technology systems powered by access to shared data resources.
The next phase of MAC involves connecting agencies and creating a digital collaboration environment that enables the linking of systems. Of course, there are concerns around sharing such information, ranging from data breaches and loss of privacy, to big state intervention. In our technology-enabled society, these are natural worries.
However, a balance must be found between sharing data and protecting individual data. If done correctly, the benefits of MAC outweigh the risks. As agencies share information – securely, and within pre-defined limits – automation offered by data analytics and matching can identify potential incidents for further assessment. Technology can help detect when records are missing, not just when suspect logs are recorded across agencies. Every contributory detail will be made available for review, which will make connecting the dots much easier. An approach to MAC with technology at its heart promises to deliver the red flags that individual agencies need to identify and act on in scenarios where vulnerable people are at risk. Ultimately, technology can augment the ability of civil servants working within departments and at a local level to reduce risk and protect citizens from harm.
Any form of collaboration within an organisation requires a clear mandate. In many ways this is a transformation challenge; a rethinking of government agencies at an operational level to rework them into collaborative entities. We’ve seen as much in the commercial world, where senior managers’ core mission is often to “break down silos” and develop a better customer experience. The same is true in the public sector. Central government departments and ministers that are held accountable when things go wrong must play an active role in fostering a collaborative culture among agencies. It is their responsibility to ensure central and local authorities are providing the best possible experience for their citizens – including developing a clearer picture of their individual circumstances. Central government bodies should therefore spearhead the development of rules upon which information sharing can be nurtured, while also offering continued and long-term support as we work in new ways towards greater collaboration.