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Children’s Services: Harnessing digital and data to improve outcomes

Read more about the highlights from techUK’s Children’s Services Roundtable

On 1 November, techUK hosted a roundtable that convened key stakeholders from local authorities, the voluntary sector and industry to discuss the challenges and opportunities to improve children’s services outcomes. We had attendees from Sunderland to Gloucestershire council and key voluntary groups such as Coram and Barnardo's present, alongside techUK members discussing how we, tech and data, can make a real difference to children and families as well as front-line staff.

Creating the culture to make innovation successful

Thanks to Coram, who set the scene, we kicked off the session by highlighting that tech should not be a barrier to improving children’s services, but it should complement and support the delivery of outcomes with the understanding that local authorities need to prioritise what has the most impact for them. In order to mitigate the risk aversion for innovation, we should support prototyping through incubators that can help with scaling up. The focus was also on the need for a culture shift where innovation can be achieved by having the right resources, capacity and capability.

The conversation continued between the stakeholders by addressing the impact the pandemic had on mental health, and how the workforce is affected by recruitment and retention. It was shown that change management is difficult to implement due to the workforce being under a lot of pressure and overloaded, lacking IT skills, and therefore we also need to look at mindfulness approaches to assist social workers and show the benefits of adopting change and taking risks to innovate. We need to see things from the perspective of “what is the risk of not doing something different?”. This also needs to be supported by policy changes that support the testing of tech and the “failing fast” mentality to deploy innovation rapidly and in a safe environment.

Recommendations and key highlights from the discussion:

  • The need for a more permissive approach for innovation, driven by central government
  • There needs to be policy changes around procurement that supports innovation
  • There is tension between levels of risk and the desire for innovation and this requires further conversations to understand how we can get people more comfortable to take risks and innovate in the children’s services space
  • We need to also focus on data interoperability and standards to support more harmony from the supplier point of view with potential new business models emerging
  • We need to address the skills challenges and keep innovation going after the implementation of tech
  • We need to support the delivery of change through business cases as this is beyond efficiency savings but how we do things better for the workforce and children and families
  • We need to understand better the cost and flow of children’s services and value of potential change
  • We need to focus on consultation and ensuring we are taking staff on the journey to innovate

Next steps

techUK will work with Coram to take forward some of the above recommendations and work with members on how we can create the conditions for innovation to flourish, allow more SMEs to enter the market and demystify real and perceived challenges to integration.

techUK will take forward some of the challenges discussed to run as part of our next Innovators Network. This is a forum for councils to enable and empower them to connect with innovators to access the latest technologies in a neutral forum to help solve some of the most pressing challenges they face. Some of the benefits of joining this network include peer support and best practice from across local government and the tech supplier base, identifying the problem to inform technology, having a safe space to test and de-risk innovation at a collective level. The Innovators Network is one of the recommendations we proposed for local public services to transform digitally faster and better in the paper “Local Public Services Innovation: Creating a catalyst for change”.

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