In the early ‘90s, I considered buying an Apple Macintosh for my desktop publishing activities. I went to the dealer and was presented with Apple’s vision of the future by means of a movie. A personal computer supported us in all our work and most of our other daily activities. The computer sent us messages, spoke to us like: “you missed a call”, “the milk in the refrigerator is sour”, “your next appointment starts in 10 minutes”. And we could react to all those messages by talking, writing or clicking. It felt like a dream come true. In the late ‘90s, I changed my job and got into the world of IT consulting.
Seven years ago, my company subscribed to a tender published by Jeugdzorg, a Dutch youth care and child protection organisation. For this tender, a short video was included by Jeugdzorg, to explain how they would like to work in the future. All information needed by the youth care worker was displayed on a computer screen, categorized in several boxes. Every box represented information, e.g. information on the child’s parents and friends, educational and sports activities including teachers and trainers involved. and therapies and therapists. There was a calendar showing all activities of the child in the context of the care and protection managed by the youth care worker and all the conversations and meetings held and planned. Finally, all reports and memos available to the youth care worker were shown in the user interface.
Besides that, feedback on every possible event was shown. In case a therapist phoned that an appointment was missed, that event was shown immediately in the youth care worker’s user interface. Depending on the event, the youth care worker was advised what to do. Also, the youth care worker was alerted on time with meetings scheduled with the client.
Both future visions were visualized, but a movie is not reality. It is complicated instructing a computer to do what Apple or Jeugdzorg had modeled. Maybe the most important reason is that real life is hard to model. And probably the second most important reason is that some people do not like to be forced in a predefined way of working where others do not understand the automated way-of-working. A third reason may be that a computers tend to be good at automating rather straightforward and repetitive work. Guiding a child through a difficult life period of one or more years is not really straightforward. A lot of thoughtful, creative and caring work is involved, and only very knowledgeable and experienced people can be of help here.
Of course, the videos of Apple and Jeugdzorg showed repetitive ‘tasks’. Nowadays, all digital calendars can send the user an alert, an internet-of-things sensor can measure the sourness of milk and send a message, and a repetitive task in youth care can be managing all data to inform the youth care worker about all stakeholders related to his client.
There can also be an “if-this-then-that” repetitiveness. If you missed a phone call then you might want to return the call later. If the milk is sour and you need new milk then you can order a new pack of milk online. If a therapist informs you that a child did not show up on an appointment, then you can call and warn your client not to miss any appointments and you make annotations in the case file. However, when you call your client, the phrasing of your message and the response that follows cannot be prescribed in an “if-this-then-that”-modus. Only a real person knows how to bring the message.
Also, it is possible that an unexpected “this”-situation occurs. If this happens, a youth care worker should be able to design a new “if-this-then-that”-task and make this reasoning available to the team.
Regarding the way-of-working, you cannot be sure that a therapist informs you on a missed appointment. Or, in case that the therapist informed you by phone and the phone was answered by your colleague, there is a possibility that the alert disappears. Because the implemented way-of-working is that all communication in a team goes through a dedicated “inbox” that is equipped to gather WhatsApp and Slack messages but is not equipped to manage phone calls or emails.
It is my dream to design and build an IT-system that is capable to support an organization like Jeugdzorg to make this possible.
Frans van Besouw, Business Consultant