Spurring best practice through better information sharing
Like many people, at the Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing (the Centre), we often talk openly about the work we are doing or have completed. However, I believe it’s also important to talk about the work that we are only just starting to shape. The reason being, it opens the possibility of other people working with you, and a more collaborative working relationship.
At the Centre, we are starting to explore an emotive area of work, and, justifiably, one that is high on the governments agenda. Domestic Violence and Abuse affects so many people, and significantly, it affects whole families – adults and children alike. Knowing the risk factors, and helping to identify where support is needed is crucial, and we know that information and data sharing is central to it. The warning signs could come from a wide range of sources – schools, A&E, mental health, and the police are clearly some of the vital places, but wide networks of other places that could provide support are also important – it could be the hairdressers for example. It’s therefore essential for the people who can spot the early warning signs to share this information so the right support can be put in place. It’s also imperative to identify patterns, so wider data sharing is also a necessity.
We see a lot of nervousness about information and data sharing in such delicate areas such as Domestic Violence and Abuse. It brings in quite sensitive ethical issues about using personal data to identify patterns, identifying people using data, and how to organise services to ensure the right support can be provided once data has been used to help make decisions. Public and professional engagement on this is key.
But this is a cross-government issue. Individual services take their direction from their department, and this sets the culture and attitude to information sharing. Perhaps staff would feel better equipped if there was more communication about sharing information and data, and how to go about it. And the messages and approach had more consistency whichever service you worked in.
This is challenging. The professional and departmental boundaries create distinctive approaches because of the different context in which they exist. And there are different sets of stakeholders that operate within those boundaries. The world of health is very different to the world of crime.
However, when you look at the needs of a person experiencing domestic violence, those worlds come together. A more human perspective is that the person needs coordinated and joined-up support. And the services need to understand the patterns of need so that their efforts can be targeted at those who need them.
Perhaps there needs to be more joining up, not just locally where services need to connect better, but nationally as well. More dialogue and conversation about how to approach the challenges of information sharing, and working together to understand each other’s worlds and work out ways forward – together. More consistency; allowing more communication about why information sharing is important, how to approach it, and getting more joined up programmes to improve capabilities in place.
When we work with local places we work to bring people together to work out how to share information better. Maybe – just as we need to communicate about the work like Domestic Violence and Abuse at an early stage to enable wider dialogue, maybe we also need to start talking across national government at earlier stages about how to share information – working together. In this way, we can increase confidence, improve innovation, ensure privacy is respected and make services better for those that need them.
Stephen Curtis, Director, Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing