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The government must help us break down barriers to data sharing

Stephen Curtis
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There has to be a multi-agency approach to information sharing, says the director of the Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing

We find that the cry for help regarding information sharing only comes when tactical involvement is needed; when there is already an issue between two organisations and there is an urgency to get the project moving.

The stumbling block could be related to trust, resources, clarity of purpose or organisational culture. In asking for help at this point, however, the party making the request could simply be looking for what they consider to be the ‘right’ answer. But involving a mediator at this stage can become part of the problem.

There is a wide range of reasons for sharing information and data. Cash-strapped public services increasingly need to better understand service users and the risks they face. More integrated and targeted services, for example, can help prevent people being admitted to hospital, support younger people into employment, or identify the families that need extra support.

To do this, data from different services needs to be brought together, matched and analysed to help target and commission the right services for the right people at the right time. This could include information relating to benefits, health, social care, school attainment or other data. But it is important to be transparent with service users, and to respect their privacy.

Transparency is also important at case level. Information and data is shared to make better and faster decisions, and to provide seamless services to users.

What might get in the way of this sharing? There are many questions that need answering. Who will match data? Who will conduct analysis when there are multiple teams fulfilling this role locally and nationally?

How do you design analytical services to manage privacy and security? How do you then target services to those who need them, and still respect privacy? How do you ensure that frontline staff know how to handle sensitive information?

These are challenging questions for any locality to address. They are multi-agency issues. There are cultural, service design, resourcing and skills development implications.

Like any situation involving change, organisations will need space to address difficulties through strong collaborative working, based on a foundation of trust with strong leadership and a commitment to finding solutions.

But the collaboration isn’t just local. Government departments also have an important role to play in supporting the search for solutions to these issues. They need to work together, to help develop new skills, change organisational cultures, and provide appropriate leadership at all levels.

With this in mind, the likelihood is that there won’t be a quick win to the tactical question. Early commitment and attention to information sharing in transformation initiatives is vital from the outset to prevent screams for help and tears of frustration.  

Stephen Curtis, director, Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing





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