The information sharing Christmas cake

Stephen Curtis,
Engagement Manager,
Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing

Have you ever made a cake?  It doesn’t really matter what cake, the basic approach remains the same.  First of all, you need a cake tin.  Then, you need some ingredients and a recipe of some sort.  And of course, you need a person to pull it all together.  They need some basic skills – how to use a cooker, how to beat things, how to source ingredients etc.  If the approach is right, you bake a successful cake, which is often the centrepiece of a good social event.

So, what has this to do with information sharing?  Throughout 2015, I have had any number of conversations in which people have sought a simple answer to information sharing.  After all, it’s just ‘stuff’ isn’t it?  The solution I often hear is ‘What about a database – that will solve the problem!’

But, if we consider the cake making metaphor, you might see a database as the cake tin, and the ingredients as information and data.  You can use the ingredients to make various different types of cake, for different situations or events.  A rich fruit cake (often ideal for Christmas or a wedding) is very different to a victoria sponge (afternoon tea perhaps?).  Similarly, we increasingly need to use information and data for a greater variety of purposes – sharing information in case management to make better decisions, or using data to assess the impact of service changes, or understanding the real financial implications of change.

We have published a number of stories and case studies about the information sharing work we have been involved in during 2015.  Have a look at our website, there is lots of richness here (like a good fruit cake!).  The fact is that public services are changing.  There is no doubt that this will continue over many years, and it means that there is a continuing story about that change, in which information and data will play its part.  There are more and more recipes we need in how we use information and data to support changing services and service needs.

What happens if we use information and data in the wrong way?  At best, the cake turns out wrong (services don’t work as effectively as they should).  At worst, if not cooked properly, or the wrong ingredients are used, we could poison people.  If we make the wrong information available to the wrong people (for example nuts to those with allergies), we could end up causing harm to people – like one situation I know where a mob of people turned up at a person’s house because of what they had found out about them.

As we try to provide earlier targeted support to people who have potential health and care needs, those who are potentially vulnerable or need support to get into or stay in work, we need to look to alternative recipes to support those situations:  intelligence about who those people are, what support they have, and to share information between services when providing that support.  We need to help join up services so that we make the right cakes for people, instead of them having to go and shop for cakes which aren’t right for them.

So what is the real point of this analogy?  The fundamental question is who makes the cake?  That’s the missing bit!  A cake tin (a database) is all very well, but it doesn’t make the cake.  A recipe (legislation, guidance etc.) is also needed, but again it doesn’t make the cake.  The people who need to create the cakes are those who know how they need to be used – the people who manage the services that support people.  They need advice, and they need tools to do the job.  But only they know what changes are needed in services, and how information and data needs to be used to support this.  For this, we all need a set of skills on how to assess information needs, work with partners, and put the right things in place.  This is about building information and data skills into jobs.  Not an annual sheep dip into information governance which people are forced to go on.  But a real focus on the role information and data play in helping to develop and deliver service to support people.

Read our case studies – they will show how skills such as communication and leadership are important in making a real difference to information sharing.  And next time you hear someone suggest a database, think about cake tins – they don’t in themselves make the cake.  It’s people that matter!

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