Information Sharing in Policy and Practice: What needs to be shared (or not shared) when we share information?

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Newcastle University Business School


This proposal responds to the urgent challenges posed by the uses of information in governing and delivering public services. Disasters and tragedies have been repeatedly attributed - at least in part - to the failure of agencies to share information. Attempts have been made to fix the problem through a variety of legislative, policy and IT approaches. Yet individuals and organisations still struggle to share information well.
Information sharing is a central concern across policy domains including the integration of health and social care, the new smart cities model, ending gangs and youth violence, and the controversial 'troubled families' agenda. Austerity measures are having significant effects as public services everywhere try to do more with less by harnessing information to avoid duplication and repetition. Existing research suggests that the exchange and management of data between organisations and practitioners involved in the delivery of public service has often proved extremely hard to achieve, in particular where sharing involves multiple professions and organisations with different values, standards and traditions. This has been exacerbated as governments have increasingly encouraged a more diverse service supplier base including businesses, charities, social enterprises and community and voluntary organisations. Moreover, data in itself is not enough. To be of use, data must be interpreted. This is not just a technical matter of tools (important as they are) but, also a matter of building the communities who can select and use these tools for specific purposes.
The twelve seminars in this series build upon multi- disciplinary, cross-sectoral bodies of work led by the proposers, involving research and practice. These include: The Leicestershire County Council led, cross government-funded national exemplar programme for Improving Information Sharing and Management; Framework for Multi-agency Environments (FAME) funded by the Department of communities and Local Government as part of the national e-government programme in England; and Effective and Appropriate Sharing of Information (EASI)an ESRC Knowledge Exchange Project to pilot and evaluate a multi-agency development programme for front-line practitioners.
We propose a three year programme of 12 seminars with a mixed composition of academics, both British and international, together with policy makers, practitioners and service users. The seminars will provide a constructive and open forum for these groups to engage in facilitated, structured dialogue about the real world difficulties that remain to be tackled. Throughout the life of the series, the principal and co-investigators will work towards establishing and nurturing a sustainable 'interpretative community' of academic researchers and non-academic users. Very importantly, an interpretative community does not imply the imposition of a homogenous world view. It is rather a matter of capability and competence in identifying, mapping and working on the boundaries between perspectives to establish the strengths and limitations of each.
The nature and scope of the proposed seminars have been developed and refined in close collaboration between the university-based proposers and the national Centre of Excellence in Information Sharing. The seminar series has been warmly welcomed by other potential user groups including Local Government Association and the Department of Work and Pensions. Academic outputs will advance debates within and across Social Policy, Public Management, Social Work and Information Systems. The series will support research capacity building with activities and prizes for doctoral students and early career researchers.

Planned Impact

A wide range of groups beyond the academic community will benefit from the proposed seminar series (for academic beneficiaries see the appropriate section and case for support):
1. non-academic researchers (e.g. in charitable trusts )
2. policy makers and service designers in European, national and local government and in service commissioning bodies and their representatives
3. those involved with regulation and governance e.g. the Information Commissioner's Office and relevant government select committees
4. practitioners and managers in public service provider organisations in public, private and third sectors in, e.g., health, social care (adults' and children's), education, criminal justice, emergency services, housing and employment services. This includes third parties such as IT providers.
5. local and national media
6. interested members of the general public (public service users' forums etc)

The nature of the benefit will vary according to the timing of involvement and the interest of the beneficiary. It is expected that many of the groups listed above will be involved in the detailed planning of the seminars and in that process will increase their circle of contacts with shared interests and will be exposed to new but relevant ideas they might not previously have explored. The benefits however will accrue through the period of the seminar series and beyond. To outline these potential benefits, we have created three categories of beneficiary:

a) Leaders and speakers in the seminar series
This group will benefit most directly (at least 33% of speakers will be non-academic).

Benefits will include:

the opportunity to present ideas to a wide range of interested parties and having one's ideas challenged

the ability to discuss openly issues that may not have been discussed in such a forum previously

the exposure to new ideas from groups as different as systems developers, journalists, politicians, civil servants, practitioners, commissioners, lawyers and information governance managers, and users, from the UK and abroad

the chance to build new networks and collaborations, building on a strong core group as the series develops

the experience of an intellectually stimulating environment building over time, providing the basis for excellent outputs, including academic and other publications.

a greater understanding of the stakeholder perspectives and research gaps, to feed into future research proposals

1. Participants in the seminars

This group will also experience a direct benefit, the degree depending to some extent on the number of seminars attended and the relevance for a beneficiary's work or interest. All six of the groups listed above will be potential beneficiaries.

Likely benefits include:

exposure to new ideas or new ways of conceptualising issues raised by information sharing

meeting people who might be able to support in practical ways (this is particularly the case for the seminars in year three)

learning about models or tools that can be used by organisations to influence decision-making and practice around information sharing

language to enable participation in the debates to challenge dominant discourses in the media, politics and academia.

2. Those benefiting from outputs and outcomes resulting from the seminar series. This group will be longer term, indirect beneficiaries and these benefits might include:

learning from seminar reports or articles

improvements to systems in provider organisations from resultant learning

improved services experienced by the public resulting from resultant actions

improved value for money in public services arising from better information sharing, leading to an improved national economy

It is expected that in the longer term, there will be a measurable impact on the design and provision of public services which in turn will positively impact on the nation's health and wealth.
Description The authors of this piece working on the seminar series with the end of the Centre of Excellence in its' previous form means the role that they played in exchanging knowledge between academic, practice and policy domains is now vacant. Despite those efforts information sharing remains fragmented in policy terms with different processes and perspectives being developed in different policy areas (health, education, etc.) and at different levels of policy.

Worse than that it appears that the rise of 'data sharing' as the solution to the problem seems to have eclipsed information sharing as something that we do not need to worry about any more in line with the broader transition of the international policy debate from information sharing to data sharing. With 'data' being foregrounded in the policy debates we seem to be harking back to earlier, more technocratic, visions, often proposed by governments and large IT services companies (6, 2002, McLoughlin and Wilson 2013), focused on the co-ordination of hard infrastructure systems in transport and mobility, energy distribution and use, and physical security based mainly on data captured from sensors, meters and cameras. In this vision, such data are to be brought together and analysed and visualised to support improved efficiency, prevention, and above all effective flow. The role of Government is one of platform.

In the UK the government's focus shifted from information for join-up service provision and performance to a wider notion of the digital economy underpinned most recently by a code of data ethics and the ongoing discussion of information governance and big data in health. Data sharing for the Government Digital Service folks has tended to imply a Gateway approach where large quantities of data are matched for specific purposes (for instance checking for up to date Motor Insurance when paying Road Tax) or in Digital Economy act legislation specific data sharing gateways for detecting fraud or identifying non-payment of fines. The structural approach to the problem of data sharing will create problems down the line as the sheer number of gateways required will be unsustainable in policy and practice.

However this utopian (or dystopian future) depending on your perspective seems to be out of synchronisation with the structural changes emerging in the UK. From a purely information perspective is highly unlikely that a 'one size fits all' or purely bureaucratic, technological or procedural approach to information sharing is going to solve the problem. That we must take a step back and seek to deal with complexity requires the development of appropriate tools and interpretative skills (both individually and collectively) for those involved in public services. For example, individuals and organisations need to understand the provenance of information that is being shared - who published what, about whom, when, with what context, and with what authority - and they need the skills and tools to make judgements based on all of these issues. In practical terms the imminent prospect of leaving the EU means that many of the collective European wide information sharing arrangements established over nearly 40 years will need to be thought through at a level of a national and devolved administration - agreements about the sharing of data and information both within the UK and with international partners. Despite the adoption of the GDPR throughout the EU and the UK this has implications in all sorts of areas where previously the membership of the EU meant that sharing information for planning was deemed useless or unnecessary. A good example is the UK labour market. As a result of decades of educational policy and changes in migration the UK almost certainly has significant skills gap yet relatively little sharing or understanding of the data and informational needs - despite devolution most data remains in the hands of Central Government inaccessible to those working at various levels of devolved government to plan and co-produce responses to the skill shortages in local areas.
Exploitation Route We believe that working on the insight that information is relational in nature will be a much more fruitful line of inquiry in transforming the interactions between the citizen and the state reflecting more enabled and active citizen and communities being more responsible and engaged in the production of services. This potential can only be realised if the ways in data and information is conceived in public and social policy is represented as an integral part of that vision - it is not one or the other BUT both. We have in previous papers described a more sophisticated approach which could lead to better service coordination, practitioner confidence, information sharing behaviour and service delivery: local service communities could work together to work their data and information to improve relationships and support deliberation (internally and externally), in parallel with improvements in systems and infrastructural resources. Central policy making can only ever be a part of such an approach and at the base of this remain fundamental architectural issues about the role and relationship of the state and its' citizens which if not addressed will continue to undermine any attempts to address particular information sharing problems in specific contexts.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice,Other

Description Our engagement in 9 seminars have contributed to discussions in a range of information sharing contexts including Smart Cities; Health and Social Care Integration; Families; Veterans and Fire and Rescue services. Future seminars include Research and Information Sharing, Devolution and Information Sharing and Communicating Information Sharing
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

Description CFOA 
Organisation Chief Fire Officers Associaton (CFOA)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Joint seminar as part of the Festival of Social Science 2015 with CFOA at London Fire Brigade
Collaborator Contribution Hosting and Organisation of the workshop,
Impact Presentations and Report from the seminar
Start Year 2015