The MIRRA Project
Memory – Identity – Rights in Records – Access
MIRRA is an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded project based at UCL and led by Professor Elizabeth Shepherd. It began in October 2017 and was initially funded until October 2019. However, further funding was awarded in 2020 (finishing in September 2021) to extend the project by creating the specification for a more participatory record-keeping system. This Phase of the project has been named MIRRA+.
The first phase of the research was undertaken in partnership with the Care Leavers’ Association and with the support of other similar organisations including Become and Rees: The Care Leavers Foundation. Its aim was to develop a better understanding of information rights in child social care contexts in England, in particular, around privacy, confidentiality and access to records. It focused on how records are created, conceptualised and accessed by the people who use them – being oriented in particular towards the experiences and needs of care-experienced people.
Suffice to say here that the research showed strong support towards participatory recordkeeping approaches in care settings. At present, recordkeeping is oriented towards the needs of service providers, with a focus on risk management, reporting to central government and the needs of social workers. As a result the voices and feelings of looked after children, carers and families are often missing or misrepresented. Existing child social work recording systems acted as a barrier to capturing the voice of the child and providing more child centred records. To address this problem, the project developed 45 Participatory Record-keeping Principles to apply in the context of children and young people in care.
Part two (MIRRA+) builds on both the findings and resulting principles by designing the specification for a Participatory Recordkeeping System. For this phase of MIRRA, we are working with a commercial partner, OLM Systems, to develop a digital participatory recordkeeping open source specification that will enable children, young people and their families to collaborate in the creation and content of records while the former are in care. Such a system will need to balance legal and regulatory requirements with the memory needs of the care experienced individual..
As we did in the original MIRRA project, we are working with:
- Care leavers and care-experienced people, aged 18+ (whom we consider ‘co-researchers’)
- Social care practitioners, including foster carers and residential workers
- Records and information practitioners, including data protection and information governance officers.
We have also assembled an Advisory Board of professionals and academics – see the Team page for a list of everyone involved.
The project is being undertaken in five stages, as follows. The first of these has already been completed.
Stage One: Development of what may be needed and wanted from such a system, starting from findings from the original MIRRA, but adding to them with more contributions from care-leavers and others in a ‘knowledge exchange’ activity. As the research for MIRRA+ is being carried out during a time of severely restricted activity due to the Covid-19 pandemic, fieldwork is being undertaken remotely, via Microsoft Teams between the academic researchers and OLM, and via Zoom with co-researchers and other participants.
The ‘knowledge exchange’; was thus undertaken with two ‘virtual’ (Zoom) workshop sessions, run by OLM. These are outlined in our blog post, but briefly one was with care-experienced people (whom we described as ‘requesters’) and the other with social workers and information professionals (or ‘deliverers’). Rather than simply repeat what had been undertaken earlier, we decided to work with the Participatory Recordkeeping Principles that had been developed from the findings. These were reduced by the research team from the original 45 to 20, the criterion being the extent to which a digital system could address each particular principle. Workshop participants were asked to choose what they considered to be the most important four of these (albeit acknowledging that they were all important, to a greater or lesser degree). They discussed their views and then voted for their preferences, having had the opportunity to reconsider during the course of the discussion.
Four main principles were agreed as potentially having the most positive impact. They were, with a description of each which incorporates the original principles on which they were based:
Inclusion of sentimental items: Records should include and accommodate core traces of an individual’s life, including photographs, special events, achievements and memories. If records are digitised all original photographs and personal documentation should nevertheless be retained.
Redaction: Records should be redacted only where information pertains only to a third party and bears no relation to the care-experienced person.
Participatory record keeping: Care-experienced people (including adult care leavers of any age) should be able to participate in every stage of child social care recordkeeping. Thus, the active involvement of children and family members should be built into recording practice throughout the care experience, using age appropriate mechanisms and activities. Records should accommodate multiple voices, representing the different perspectives, beliefs and opinions of the diverse people involved in a child’s life.
Creative record keeping: Recordkeeping systems, including digital systems, should be structured to manage formal, informal and creative contributions from multiple perspectives.
The system specification design will therefore address these features as priorities as the project progresses through the other four stages, as outlined below.
Stage Two: The production of a ‘test’ model of the system with our partner OLM, designed to meet the requirements established in Stage One and outlined above. This will be undertaken by the beginning of February, ready for Stage Three.
Stage Three: User testing of the system, with young people (aged 13-17) who are in care and for whom the system will be designed. Ten to twelve people fitting this profile will be invited to participate (virtually) with their guardians in interacting with and giving their views on the interface and general design and appearance of the model.
Stage Four: A review of the user testing and discussion about further modifications, both with participants and the wider stakeholder communities. This will be via online meetings and various publicity activities where we will disseminate findings.
Stage Five: Finally, the full system specification (documentation which describes system requirements and how the software will meet them) will be developed and published under a Creative Commons License, making it available to social care providers and to systems developers. This will inform the development and procurement of digital systems compliant with our participatory recordkeeping principles.