Sailing the information sharing seas

Claire Everitt,
Head of Engagement,
Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing

Here in the Centre, we often receive requests for help with writing an Information Sharing Agreement (ISA), and it appears there is misconception that having an ISA will fix the information sharing problem.  This ‘quick fix’ rarely works because the act of writing and signing an ISA is rather superficial. Whilst the development of an ISA is an important component of the information sharing process, it isn’t the be all and end all. Too much attention is given over to completing an administrative function, often it then becomes both an industry and a frustration, a distraction and point of disagreement for those involved.

Last weekend, I spent some time at the beach, and whilst watching the Royal National Lifeboat Institution crew carrying out their weekly training drill, my mind drifted to an area of information sharing which I have been pondering for a while. Having some space away from the calls, emails and meetings gave me some time to think and reflect, and the coastal activity of the lifeboats helped me to put my thoughts onto paper on where I see the value of an Information Sharing Agreement (ISA).

We need to get away from thinking about ISA’s as a legal contract, they are not. In my view, an Information Sharing Agreement is more akin to a ‘Captain’s log book’. It provides a record of important events in the management, operation, and navigation of a ship [initiative or situation in which information needs to be shared]. It has multiple purposes and helps the crew [or partners] to navigate, should the ships navigational equipment [organisational processes] fail. It may also be examined as part of an investigative process for official inquiries, and any alterations or corrections must be initiated by the authorised keeper [in the instance of an information sharing agreement, by the data custodian and partners involved in sharing].

I believe that an information sharing agreement is an important tool. Helping partners to discuss, decide, and document the culmination of the plans they have made together. It helps describe for all who are interested, the data a partnership requires, the purpose it will be used for, who will be able to access it, and the circumstances in which it is enacted. It specifies how each partner will look after the data in their care, and should clearly articulate the actions and roles each partner will play in the event of something not going to plan.

A Captain’s log does not steer a ship safely to its destination; that is the job of the crew, with assistance from the tools and equipment they have at their disposal. In the same vein, an Information Sharing Agreement in itself, won’t ‘make information sharing work’; done well it can help steer a partnership team through a plethora of decisions they must make and log their journey, should they ever find themselves ‘all at sea’.

If you’d like to read more about ISA’s you can do so by visiting our ISA and ISP (Information Sharing Protocol) page, you can also get in touch if you want to discuss any of the points Claire has raised.

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