Valuing our differences: building relationships across the organisational divide

Guest post by Dr Sue Richardson, School of Management, Bradford University

Every time I turn on the radio or read a newspaper this week, information sharing seems to be there. There was the special evening on Costing the NHS on Radio 4 – a two hour piece on the future of the NHS which included discussions from different perspectives on service transformation and integration with information sharing very much part of the debate. I also came across a recent National Institute for Health Research report called Getting the benefit from electronic patient information that crosses organisational boundaries. It looks at new e-health systems in primary care and is well worth a read. Then there was the serious case review of Daniel Pelka.  Although much of the focus is on lost opportunities to hear the voice of the child, once again, lack of effective information sharing was one of the issues reported on.

It was standing at the sink washing up one night over a decade ago, listening to a radio programme on the serious case review for Victoria Climbié, that made me start to think about researching inter-organisational information sharing. One part of me thought, ‘Time after time, we hear about serious case reviews that conclude the same thing; that agencies did not communicate with each other well and that opportunities to save a life had been lost, that without the whole picture being visible, the true level of risk had not been appreciated. Why on earth doesn’t someone try to understand why, despite knowing what the problem is, we don’t seem to be able to find a solution?’ Another part of me was trying to counter my rising passion: ‘What do you know about it? Okay, you’ve done work with health partnerships and you know a thing or two about information systems but you’re not a social worker or a health visitor or a teacher or police officer – you don’t know what all the problems are. This is massive!! There are people dedicated to making things better and they’re experts. Just get on with your job!’ But I just didn’t seem to be able to let it go and that’s how I talked myself into starting out on doctoral research aiming to better understand inter-organisational information sharing. I wanted to do something to try to improve things.

We’re now ten years on, my PhD having been completed in 2007. I still don’t have all the answers but I think I do appreciate more where some of the sticking points are and how, without too much trouble, we could at least improve on where we are today. Along with Professor Nick Frost, a colleague from Leeds Metropolitan University, I am working at Bradford University School of Management, on an Economic and Social Research Council funded project called EASI (Effective and Appropriate Sharing of Information). It is a collaborative Knowledge Exchange project and one of the project partners is the City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council ; the other is the IISaM project, which is why I come to be writing this blog on the IISaM web pages. EASI is piloting free front line practitioner development workshops called Valuing Our Differences, with the aim of enabling practitioners (and their managers and information governance teams) to understand how agencies other than their own work with information sharing and why they might all need to do things slightly differently. The research I did earlier suggested that this could be a real key to front line practitioners developing the confidence to share (and to protect) their service users’ information in safe and appropriate ways. To find out more, do contact me: email Dr Sue Richardson.