Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing
How, what and when information is shared can have an impact on partnerships and the professionals within those partnerships. It impacts decision making, process building and service delivery in all areas of public services and ultimately can negatively or positively affect the public who are at the heart of partnership thinking. In my work at the Centre, I concentrate on the cultural make-up of that partnership; understanding what makes a good partnership is vital to exploring the barriers and enablers to better information sharing.
Sharing information in partnership creates trust, cohesion, increased interaction, learning opportunities and wider understanding of what different services and views can bring to the table.
The partners in partnerships we work with may be local government services, voluntary sector organisations, government departments and in some cases interest-based individuals with specific skill sets or knowledge. At the heart of these partnerships is transformation of services which should always lead towards better outcomes for citizens.
To enable me to uncover some of the barriers to information sharing, I have developed my thinking on what makes a good, information sharing partnership; considering how these things work within any partnership setting can be used to unblock barriers and support any partnerships onward journey. A good partnership should consider the following in the work it is overseeing:
Having a flow of discussion and understanding how communication channels internally and externally are kept as open as possible supports understanding and engagement. Where communication barriers are easily broken down because of an apparent information sharing barrier it is always wise to consider having someone independent (e.g. chair) within the partnership who can act as a mediatory figure. At the Centre, understanding our audience (internal or external) and how they need to be communicated with always features at the heart of all our engagements.
2. Shared language
Has the partnership got a shared dialogue that they use, to focus their information sharing goals? Misuse of language can be a barrier. I have seen in my work that the question of how, why, and what information is shared to create a service and different agencies terminology can have an adverse effect on partners willingness to participate or even understand what the partnership are trying to achieve. Achieving this understanding of language removes those barriers and can unearth some very surprising changes back in organisations. A good example of this is a barrier I observed between two organisations who would not agree on whether they need an information sharing agreement in principle or an information sharing contract. This took a two-month delay and a very forward-thinking information governance officer to tell them they were in fact talking about the same thing.
Choosing the right partners seems like an easy thing to achieve, however with the diversifying of areas of work and the cross-over of many services it is easy to miss-partner agencies who can bring vital information, skills and knowledge to the table. Understanding the level at which partner agencies come into information sharing and its place in their own organisation and how it sits alongside the partnerships aims is key to developing those partners and the partnership together.
4. Decision making, problem solving and working as a team
I feel quite strongly about this area of partnership working as each partner comes to the table with its own directive, aims and objectives and if they feel that they are not being met, or are at odds with other partners they can act as a barrier to building, performing and information sharing. It is important to empower the partners around the table, understand what they are bringing to the partnership and how they need to make decisions and problem solve. If you are unable to counteract this, decisions can be held up in dramatic fashion. Understanding those initial barriers and putting in to process mechanisms to support partners being able to make decisions supports the free flow of information. It also supports a clearer path for partners to problem solve within their own organisations and the partnership itself.
Some people find the idea of creative thinking in the world of information sharing and information governance as irrelevant. I disagree, sometimes getting people to draw the perfect information sharing journey or an individual’s pathway, perhaps thinking outside of the box of ‘we need to achieve this’ but being able to look at the knock-on effects of your work through creative thinking sessions can be invaluable. At the Centre, we often use Lego with partners to get them to build a picture of what it is they are building. This interactive activity unearths some very useful thinking for partners.
In my thinking, I see two very clear environments for partnerships which will react differently to the pressures, times and asks that are placed on them. They could be a partnership who have been set up as a reaction to a gap, issue or breakdown of service that has arisen or a proactive partnership who are trying to build better service, provision or reform services. Creating the right information sharing environment for that partnership to perform is arguably the most difficult to achieve, but will reap the greatest reward. Partners need to understand all the time pressures, the reasons and the asks of them as individuals. They need to work together to build the aims and objectives, and be acknowledged for doing so within their own organisations and those bigger organisations who are instructing the partnership.
This blog is my observations on partnerships and how they work, what supports the development of better structures, what supports the making of important discoveries about better use of their data and provides a supportive platform for knowledge sharing, learning and diversity in thinking. Having been in partnerships, supporting partnerships and overseeing partnerships I know its not easy, but greatness is never easy.