The Data Dance – Successfully Choreographing Data Sharing in Your Community

Data_DanceFew would dispute the benefits of making community data available to inform the best possible decisions. However, the first question I get asked from people within collaborations is – how do we get people to share data? Risk and fear often come to mind when people mention sharing data across agencies within communities. People ask – how will this data be used? Will it be misconstrued? What about the privacy of the people involved? Will it end up in the newspaper? Will people turn into league tables? Will this impact negatively on my community?

My question back to them is – what do you need to do to create an environment where they feel safe sharing their data? We need to acknowledge there are formal and informal processes to make this happen.

In the US, highly effective collective impact initiatives are propelled by their use of data. Data is used to mobilise the community through community report cards, develop early warning systems for continuous improvement and advocating for systemic change. The initial technical problems of data sharing across organisations were overcome through data sharing agreements.

These formal agreements generally detail

  • Who is covered by the agreement
  • The purpose the data is to be used for
  • How the data will be shared, in what format, etc
  • Who gets access to the data and how it can be used
  • Privacy considerations.

Formal agreements provide the ‘technical’ component of dealing with the issue of data sharing i.e. privacy, dashboards, permissions. The mistake many organisations make is to stop here. The second and arguably more critical element of securing effective data sharing is the informal component, or, as Liz Skelton from The Adaptive Practice describes, the ‘adaptive’ challenge.

“When dealing with the issue of sharing data we are also dealing with an adaptive challenge where the norms and values of our organisations may be challenged by this change. How do we help people shift from the fear of data sharing to being open and trusting?

First of all we need to understand the nature of the adaptive challenge.  A number of diagnostic questions can be useful.

  • Does the current challenge [data sharing] emerge from changing values or priorities within the organisation or changing external conditions?
  • Where does the conflict emerge? Around the values and vision or at the level of objectives, strategy and tasks?

Adaptation always means loss; changing ways of working together by sharing data means that one or several parties may fear losing something in this process.  This is usually fear of loss of power, control, status, resources. In the case of data sharing, this could be the loss of control of knowledge or fear of recriminations of data being misused.

The reality in most adaptations is that the fear of loss is far greater than the actual reality. But this is the crux of adaptive work, we are dealing with perceptions and fears.  It’s not a rational process so we need to engage in different ways, diagnosing what’s at stake for all stakeholders in sharing data, including us.  What may be the perceived loss? And what is the value that is being protected if we stay with business as usual?  Unless you can demonstrate that you understand what’s at stake, it is very hard to get people to go along with you.  Speaking to the perceived loss but also demonstrating that we’re willing to give something up as well brings “skin in the game”, fundamental for building trust.”

As discussed in this piece, there are formal and informal processes we need to be mindful of when asking people to share data within their communities (and beyond).

Some suggestions for moving forward:

  1. Understand the concerns of sharing data with your potential collaborators.
  2. Look for opportunities to put ‘skin in the game’, this may be giving up some of the data requested, or being flexible with the timeframes.
  3. Identify the ‘low hanging fruit’ i.e. data that is low risk, for your first data agreement.
  4. Before any data is shared, ensure there is a data agreement in place with all the collaborators (you may need legal advice).
  5. Ensure the platforms for sharing information are secured (i.e. password protected), accessible to those with permission and where possible (and if appropriate) acknowledge the source of the data.
  6. Be quick to demonstrate the use of the shared data in your regular cross-agency meetings i.e. how this data can be used for decision making to benefit community members.
  7. Add more data sets to your agreement over time, when people are comfortable to share more.
  8. Create a meeting culture where issues can be brought up and collaborators are open to discuss fears, objections in an environment where they are met with curiosity and enquiry as opposed to defence and protection.

Data sharing is a bit like dance. It involves trusting yourself and your partners, learning the skills but also adapting to new ways of moving, thinking and interacting with others.

Written by Jenny Riley and  Liz Skelton, Collaboration for Impact.
Republished from Collaboration for Impact.

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