This week I have been in Chester for the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC)* Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hubs (MASH)* Conference, hosted by ACC Jon Blake, NPCC Mash and Intelligence Lead.
The inaugural conference aims to highlight "how police and partners can work together to protect the most vulnerable members of our community."
For those who are unfamiliar with a MASH, it is essentially a co-located collaboration effort that brings together various organisations with touch-points in a community who, together, can paint a clear picture of safety and security challenges in cases of vulnerability, violence and abuse. ACC Blake summed it up well, writing in his welcome note:
"To keep the most vulnerable members of society safe it is essential that we work together via effective information sharing and a joined up approach to safeguarding. If we do not do this, then people will be left at risk and we may not recognise until it is too late."
So, having spent two days hearing from leaders in MASHs, learners (like me!) were lucky enough to gain important insights into lessons learned, challenges and opportunities to improve collaborative, multi-agency working for public safety outcomes. I believe that if we are serious about making working together work, then lessons learned need to be lessons shared. Here is a summary of my notes, but if you would like to have a more in-depth conversation about this, don't be shy. My contact details are here.
- Co-location is not enough. It is necessary to ensure that the hub is set up and structured with adequate processes, procedures and tools that encourage and reiterate the need to work together. Collaboration does not just happen because some people occupy the same space. In fact, individual organisation cultures and habits that impede joined-up working still exist and thrive in hubs if they are not "designed out" by the establishment and enactment of truly collaborative principles and ways of working. Speakers cited examples of various organisations co-located in hubs, but sitting separately, or only with others from their organisations. Information sharing is a challenge, and there is a sense of nervousness around what data can be processed for public safety reasons. Information Sharing Agreements were used as an example of one way to address this. Another option is the development of access management. Whatever the way, there needs to be a will to address and overcome this challenge. The tech sector can help here, we just need to be aware that MASHs, and public sector organisations, see this as a challenge, so patience and understanding is key.
- Leadership, responsibility and accountability are still a challenge. Related to the first point, with the joining up of various organisations comes a need for a new structure of responsibility. Which organisation and which individual takes the lead is a challenge. Some suggested that police are a good option given their nature of service. Ultimately, it is dependent on the MASH itself, and it seems that no two MASHs are the same (not a bad thing!). But...and this is important...it must be clear who is "the leader".
- There is still a lack of an evidence base, but it seems to be working. Despite the fact that MASH is quite a popular solution to the challenges presented by collaboration and multi-agency working, the evidence base for its success is still relatively limited. This is not a reflection of MASHs themselves, but rather a lack of widespread studies of them. Some reviews, such as Dr. Michelle McManus' work, have been working to address this, taking an empirical and practical approach to building an understanding of how MASHs intend to operate, how MASHs actually operate, and how to fix those gaps. There are examples of success around the UK, form various forces and contexts that show that multi-agency, collaborative working that puts people at the heart of everything it does can, and do, deliver results. I would suggest the South Wales MASH is one such example. However, there's still a way to go in terms of getting this model or concept "right enough" so that it is scale-able and flexible, and therefore widely applicable.
- Health data is a challenge. Many MASH leaders noted that it felt almost impossible to get health organisations involved, because of the information sharing/security issue. I don't have even a suggestion of a solution or opportunity here yet, but something to note. The lack of a health voice at the table is a problem, as it can often hold a golden thread that pulls a wider picture together. Like I said, no solution from me, just food for thought.
So, what does this mean for the tech sector? Some thoughts...(can you tell I love a numbered list?)
- We need to be understanding of the unique operating environment for MASHs. Patience is key when working with these organisations and their hubs.
- Presenting your solutions as a tool to apply or manipulate and design their ways of using it seems to have been a positive route to integration. Allow them the space to unlock the potential of your offering.
- There is appetite and opportunity for change and integration, but it needs to be meaningful. Given the variation in capacity, capability and even general set up of MASHs, what you are offering is possibly further along the journey that they are necessarily ready for. This isn't a dead end, but it is worth making sure that the MASH is set up with good processes and procedures that encourage joined-up working before your tool gets built into the mix. This means it is a great opportunity to support our public sector friends, encouraging and enabling their public safety ambitions. At techUK we aim to support here to set the public sector up for success, so join us in this effort.
Don't be shy in reaching out to me if you have ideas and experience here. Our place-based innovation strand of work that sits between the Local Government and the Justice & Emergency Services programmes is a great way to be involved in supporting and shaping the future of MASHs. My contact details are here.
*If the acronyms in policing and public safety confuse you, don't worry - it's not just you! If you have any questions that you aren't comfortable asking others, just get in touch! There's no judgement in the Justice & Emergency Services (JES) Programme!