Information Sharing Among Public Agencies: An Impediment to Social Policy?

The Law Commission of the UK (www.justice.gov.uk, accessed July 11,2014) has recognized that public services and public sector projects which might also involve private organizations delivering a public service or working for government, are often hampered by barriers, perceived or real, to information sharing. They have recommended a law reform project to review data sharing law in the UK, law which is now scattered through statutes and regulations, and administered by various levels of government.

The purpose would be to ensure that a consistent legal framework exists to protect privacy, but also to provide for efficient information sharing where it is permitted or can be legally justified. They recommend that the study include consideration of “soft law” which includes protocols, procedures, ethical guidelines, etc. As well, they want the project to include the identification of needed training of personnel dealing with information for sharing purposes, indicating that some of the issues identified in their scoping project emerge not from legal barriers to information exchange, but from misperceptions, lack of knowledge, or bureaucratic inefficiencies.

The impediments to information sharing have been highlighted as major problems in social policy initiatives in Canada and the USA. In some cases such as identifying youth at risk or providing a range of “wrap-around” services, the problems of sharing information among public agencies such as police, school system, social services and public health, as well as involving private sector specialists, have been flagged. In other cases the effective monitoring or evaluation of special projects in disadvantaged communities have been hindered by lack of data sharing protocol, by inability to overcome bureaucratic obstacles such as information “fiefdoms” or ineffective decision-making processes. In yet other cases it appears that the potential efficiencies of information technology are undermined by lack of training, adaptability, or systemic incapacity. This issue has been flagged in Europe as an impediment to the efficient delivery of health services, especially in placing the consumer in the centre of the process. In the USA, evaluation of Empowerment and Opportunity Zones was undermined by information-sharing obstacles among federal, state and local agencies. Problems of detecting fraud in the Medicaid and Medicare programs have also been attributed in part to information-sharing obstacles.

If our readers are aware of other social policy initiatives which meet with information-sharing impediments, we would be pleased to know about them. Leave a comment or email us at team2politudes@rogers.com.

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