For the last two years, the IISaM project – soon to evolve into the information sharing Centre of Excellence – has been spreading the message that making information sharing successful is all about focusing on the people. Yes, there are often IT problems. And yes, real legal barriers do exist – not just the Data Protection Act, but other legislation and regulation. But time and again, we’ve found that the cultural and organisational issues lie at the heart of what is possible. Differing priorities, lack of resource, and the idea that information sharing is nobody’s job – those barriers are crucial to address.
No doubt, our message has been more openly received because of initiatives such as the Behavioural Insights Team (or ‘Nudge Unit’), who look at the psychological factors in behaviour change. Books such as Nudge have changed the landscape for everyone who is working to try and improve and transform public services.
So it has been with great pleasure that this message has been seen coming from the departments and agencies we work with. A recent debate, on the Communities and Local Government Select Committee’s inquiry into Community Budgets, highlighted the importance of information sharing to enabling the transformation of public services, with the Committee Chairman Clive Betts MP saying:
I was pleased that the Government seemed to recognise that data and information sharing is a potential problem. The Secretary of State was quite open in saying to the Committee that he thought that, very often, there were no real legal obstacles to data and information sharing; there was just a presumption that people could not do it. It was more a matter of culture and belief than a real obstacle, so … the efforts to get local authorities and central Government Departments to set up a centre of excellence for information and data sharing are all very welcome, because they do seem to show the Government taking this matter very seriously.
Over at the Public Accounts Committee (who are looking at the programmes which exist to help individuals with multiple, complex problems), discussion of the ESF programme on worklessness and the Troubled Families programme also included the understanding that information sharing is vital to working with people more holistically. Members of the committee, and witnesses giving evidence (such as Sir Bob Kerslake, below), noted that it isn’t simply about computers or legislation:
To be honest, often the barrier to data sharing is not legal at all; it is cultural. It is history; it is practice. One of the big things that the programme has sought to do is test, really, which of these issues – these so-called reasons why you cannot share data – are just down to culture and practice, and which are down to people being inhibited by statutory regulation.
All of this suggests that the Centre of Excellence has an opportunity to make a real impact by supporting information sharing for public service reform. And we’re already working with local areas to start making a difference – more of which next week.