The government is pushing for more joined-up working across the public sector.
From the Conservative manifesto to the July Budget and the announcement of the cross-government taskforces, there are clear signals that a silo mentality won’t cut it. Greg Clark said at the Local Government Association conference: “While Whitehall may be organised along neat departmental lines, meeting the needs of real people in real places is a very different matter.”
While successive governments have encouraged joined-up approaches, there is no doubt this is a new emphasis, accompanied by a new level of ambition locally. Regardless of political colour, we are unanimous in our belief that collaborative public services are beneficial for users. The challenge is not one of desire, but one of implementation.
So, why is inter-agency working so difficult to implement? Does it get mired in passionate debate about budgets and structures, and the respective roles of central and local government?
Clearly attempts to resolve these issues matter, and must continue. But at the same time, real progress can be made in what might seem an unlikely area: information sharing.
One of the problems with information sharing is that people jump straight to the ‘information’ and undervalue the ‘sharing’ element. Good information sharing is built on the foundations of strong partnership working.
By sharing information, these foundations become even firmer. Cultures of trust develop between partners as they experience real and lasting improvements to services and outcomes.
For example, Bath & North East Somerset Council is embedding information sharing into its transformation work. Learning around information sharing is coming from its innovative welfare support programme, which has seen the team adopt the same approach as its connecting families programme, and from the multi-agency information sharing hub which is being developed to inform decisions around support to vulnerable children and families.
That learning can now be spread throughout the programmes of transformational change locally.
Chief executive Jo Farrar is an information sharing leader. She has established a shared vision across partners and kept the outcomes for service users uppermost in mind when developing that vision.
She has also challenged some common misunderstandings about information sharing, such as only seeing that sharing as a set of technical arguments about database design, rather than interactions between people.
If we agree that we want to help deliver joined-up public services, we need to acknowledge that although information sharing won’t solve all our problems, it can be a really powerful starting place for driving the cultural changes needed. But we need more information sharing leaders to make this happen.
Charlotte Piper, assistant director, Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing