Information sharing insight – six months on

Source: PSE - April/ May 15

In October, we met with Stephen Curtis, director of the then newly launched Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing. Six months on, we caught up with him again to find out how breaking barriers to information sharing is transforming public services.

Starting the way we mean to go on 

“The appetite from local places to work with us has been staggering,” said Curtis. “Our team has hit the ground running – working intensively across the country on transformation programmes that range from the integration of health and social care, through to ending gangs and youth violence.” 

And the appetite for the Centre’s work is not just at local level, he said: “Budget reductions are a reality for everyone, so policy makers in central government are just as keen as local places to reduce duplication and deliver better results for public service users. 

“Our national partners want to learn from local places’ experiences and are requesting our input into policy approaches. This was most evident at our recent Ending Gangs and Youth Violence workshop, where findings were used to directly inform the Home Office’s annual report.” 

Getting under the skin of an organisation to deliver sustainable change 

The Centre focuses on the role of ‘culture’ in information sharing – looking at the way that organisations in transformation partnerships work together and making sure they are sharing information systemically. Even though it has only been six months, the Centre is already starting to gain traction and identify and share key trends that support a freer flow of information. 

“Our approach of only working with those places that have already established transformation partnerships and identified information sharing as a barrier is certainly reaping rewards. Through this model we find local places are more open to challenge, are keen to review partnership relationships and their own role within them and can move towards solutions quicker. 

“Although there are some similarities in the challenges experienced by places, we find that the resolution is unique in each case. As such, although it is useful to have policy frameworks to inform thinking, prescription is not the answer – local solutions need to be developed by local partners themselves.” 

Challenging the traditional role of leadership 

One of the key themes emerging from the Centre’s work is the role of leadership. Curtis explained: “It is not unusual to hear that leadership is the key to effective partnerships and information sharing. But it goes deeper than that. Strong leadership is not just about all senior managers communicating to staff that they must work together and share information with partners. Instead, we are finding information sharing barriers are more readily challenged when all staff are empowered to lead and where information sharing is an integral part of their role, not something that happens occasionally when they have time.” 

Cultural change takes time 

According to a recent feedback survey, local places value the Centre’s approach of supporting and challenging them to develop their own solutions, rather than auditing and inspecting. But, the survey also found there is a deep concern about the scale of the challenge ahead. 

Curtis explained: “It is no secret that budgets will continue to shrink and local places have told us they are concerned about creating the capacity to tackle information sharing challenges – although they recognise the need to do it. Our response is that it needs to be done. In Surrey for example, we facilitated a workshop which resulted in the partners agreeing approaches to how service users’ personal information can be shared – this agreement only came about by having the time and space to reflect on the challenges they are experiencing and developing practical solutions to overcome them.” 

What comes next? 

As the new financial year gets underway, the Centre will continue to share its findings so more local places can improve services through better information sharing. 

Curtis told us: “Multi Agency Sharing Hubs are of particular interest at the moment. There are many different models and we will be assessing these in the coming months in order to inform national thinking and local practice. We are also talking to a number of new localities, for example Blackpool with its Transience Programme, which we feel will provide some excellent learning to support families, communities and employment. 

“We know that local places are continuing to face uncertainty at the moment, but we are keen to make it as easy as possible to learn from other places experiences and ensure policy around information sharing is as clear as possible through our work.”

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