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The importance of information sharing within the Troubled Families programme

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‘Information sharing’, or ‘sharing information’, whichever way you say it, are two words which sound so easy. And many people who work within the public sector don’t even consider information sharing as a specific ‘thing’ or an extra to their job; it’s just something which is an integral part of their role. This allows them to function efficiently with partners to provide a better service to those they are supporting or caring for. However, for other local authorities and public bodies, those two words which are so easy to say, are so much harder to do.

Here at the Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing, one aspect of our role is to work on the ground with local places to bridge this gap and ensure that all are sharing information wherever possible. To do this, we investigate, challenge and help the local place overcome their cultural barriers to information sharing. We then share our findings so these barriers and approaches can be employed and developed by other places that are experiencing the same or similar issues.

When it comes to the Troubled Families Programme, information sharing allows the most complex and costly families to be identified (by using data to cross reference the demand they are placing on different services). Information sharing also means problems can be tackled more effectively, resulting in better outcomes for families.

With the support of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Department of Health and Social Care, and Public Health England, the Troubled Families’ health information sharing project was established to identify the cultural barriers and enablers to sharing health data and provide case studies to help those who are trying to share health information better.

To capture these case studies, my colleagues carried out a series of semi-structured interviews with key professionals involved in the management and the delivery of both the Staffordshire and Oldham Troubled Families’ programmes, looking at the approaches taken in each place to sharing information with health partners.

From these visits, interviews, and follow-up phone calls, we produced an Oldham case study, a Staffordshire case study and a summary report. Whilst the two case studies focus on the detail specific to Staffordshire and Oldham, the summary report is an overview from both case studies and it identifies eight common barriers to sharing and gives an approach to overcome these.

The common barriers identified were:

  1. Varying levels of information sharing maturity
  2. Concerns about security, confidentiality and interpretation of data
  3. Concerns about legal gateways for sharing health data to support Troubled Families
  4. Different approaches to consent
  5. Addressing a lack of trust and shared vision
  6. Poor engagement due to lack of explicit joint benefits
  7. Partners can have complex systems
  8. Not everyone is used to ‘thinking family’.

If you work in a Troubled Families team, or you are a partner working with a Troubled Families team, and you recognise any of the barriers above, then we’d recommend you read the reports to find out how these were overcome. We hope that you will be able to benefit from the experiences of Staffordshire and Oldham and can implement some of the learning in your own area.

You can download the reports from our website, or please leave me a comment.

Jessica Sharp
Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing


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