Information sharing on the ground in local areas

Earlier this week, the Steering Group for the new Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing met to discuss progress towards the Spring 2014 launch of the Centre.  We were pleased to be able to give a really positive update, and you can probably see some of the results of our work starting to appear on the website and Twitter, with a new name and colour scheme now online.  Centre logoOne of the most noticeable developments over the past couple of months has been the enthusiasm across Government departments for the Centre – once the idea came into being, lots of different departments started suggesting we might be able to help them.  We are already set to support the areas within the Public Services Transformation Network, and we’re in discussions around policy areas such as welfare reform, integrating health and social care, and addressing Gangs and Youth Violence.

The main focus for the Centre, however, will be on working with local areas to help them find and implement information sharing solutions.  Next week, two of the team are heading down to Bath and North East Somerset, not just to take the waters, but also to meet with colleagues from the Council and partner organisations as part of a major project they’re working on.  The aim is to make the Council and their partners more ready to use the data that they already hold, to understand who uses their services, and how services might be better designed around their needs.  This means doing quite a lot of work to prepare – things like getting governance right, developing policies and procedures, and working on data quality.

roman baths
Bath’s baths – photo courtesy Swamibu (Creative Commons)

But one of the great things about Bath and North East Somerset is that the change isn’t just happening in isolation – it is being driven by a desire to reform services, such as the support for people who struggle to find sustainable work.  Last month, we were part of a workshop to look at three fictional personas, and explore how they might currently interact with the public sector.  Debt advisers, community mental health practitioners, skills development officers and commissioners all came together to consider how we might do it better, and all of them were talking about how information sharing could support that process – instead of avoiding the conversation, or filing it under ‘too hard’.

workshop photo
Participants consider their options at Swindon’s information sharing workshop

Swindon is another area where information sharing is having an impact.  The team ran a workshop for the Council and its partners, using the work that had already happened about Troubled Families to start a conversation about what the barriers might be to better information sharing, and how we could start addressing them.  The realisation that many of the issues are cultural or organisational (such as lack of resources, concerns about the issues within old IT systems, or worries over how information might be used) was one that is familiar, but it left attendees starting to explore what could already be shared, using their better understanding of how each organisation actually works.