A global view on information sharing

Nathaniel Aust,
Dissemination Co-ordinator,
Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing

My previous experience of listening to academics talk about information sharing opened my mind to a new way of thinking. I don’t claim to understand everything they said, but it was inspiring to see how problems can be reduced to their basic elements to find a solution.

So it was with an open mind that I made the trip down to London to attend an international academic panel meeting focusing on Information Sharing for public services. Organised by Newcastle University the panel was chaired by Chi Onwurah, (MP for Newcastle upon Tyne) and included Professor Rob Wilson who is on the Centre’s academic panel (Newcastle University), Matt Warman (MP for Boston and Skegness), Professor Sharon Dawes (Albany University, USA) and Professor Miriam Lips (Victoria University, New Zealand).

After the opening welcomes, including congratulations on making it through the weather and train disruptions, Professor Miriam Lips gave an insight into the part information sharing plays in improving public services in New Zealand.

Insights from New Zealand

Her opening address included the phrase ‘information sharing and data innovation is at the heart of public sector reforms’. In my mind this highlights the role information sharing plays in improving outcomes in the public sector and reaffirms the importance of the work the Centre of Excellence does.

She then went on to share examples of how information sharing plays a part in public services and touched on how data sharing was used to help create smart cities as part of the rebuilding of Christchurch following the earthquake in 2011. But the part which really resonated with me was when she spoke about her experience of enablers and barriers to info sharing, which were:

  • Enablers – trust, uniform legal guidance, co-location and leadership
  • Barriers – perceived difference in data quality, lack of technical abilities and digital skills, ownership of data

My colleague Jessica will now share what we heard from the U.S.

Jessica Grudgings,
Dissemination Co-ordinator,
Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing

After Professor Lips had given an insight into information sharing in New Zealand, Professor Sharon Dawes transported us around the globe to describe what role information sharing takes in the U.S.

She began by saying that the U.S. don’t have a top-down approach to information sharing, but rather a pragmatic one which focuses on the ‘critical success factors’. These are; purpose, organisational capability and technology.

To summarise, purpose was explained as a need to understand the public service goal and what barriers need to be crossed to achieve the end goal. It also involves asking the question of who are the key stakeholders which need to be involved.

Professor Dawes went on to explain how capability between organisations needs to be built and understood, for example due to the characteristics of organisations being diverse there may be some gaps where no-one has the capability, or there may be over-lap where different organisations have the same capability. What is important in building capability is sharing knowledge in order to be able to understand organisations capability to begin with.

The third critical success factor was technology; Professor Dawes made the point that an organisations starting point makes a big difference, and gave the example of where one organisation had all their data written down manually on cards whereas another had a database. This shows how technology differs greatly between organisations and there needs to be some comparative between how information is stored to be able to work together. This is a common issue we hear from the local places which we work with too, and it is often the starting point when we are approached by local places. The conversation quickly progresses onto cultural change though when people realise technology will only go so far in solving the problem and it’s the people using the technology which is important.

Open questions from the floor
It was really insightful to hear an overview of how both countries approached information sharing, and what I found particularly interesting were the answers to the Q&A session. The Centre’s director Stephen Curtis asked the panel what was the one key issue they faced in their respective countries. Professor Dawes response was that of ‘policy’ – she explained that in the U.S. the existing laws need to be changed as they are currently tied so tightly to funding streams it restricts information sharing.

Comparably, Professor Lips described how in New Zealand it was the lack of trust which hindered information sharing. She even quipped that in New Zealand policy isn’t such an issue as a New Zealander would break the law if it was with the best interests of another in mind, whereas the issue of lack of trust is key as New Zealanders highly value privacy so trust needs to be built before information can be shared. This need to build trust also helps to explain the importance of co-location in New Zealand and facilitated leadership.

Isn’t it a small world?
All of the projects supported by the Centre include a list of barriers and enablers which differ from place to place, but normally include the usual suspects –all leading back to the need for cultural change.

So knowing that we are dealing with the same issues as our international colleagues is inspiring as we are all taking on the same issues and looking for solutions to the same challenges. Although I don’t think this will lead to any trips to New Zealand or the U.S. (!) the fact that we are all working to overcome the same barriers is both inspiring and reassuring.

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