Three key insights for getting your data sharing strategy right

Published: 11 April 2023

A chessboard viewed from above; the pieces are in their starting positions.
Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash
Uncovering best practices from our Changing Futures partners. 

As part of our support for Changing Futures – a £64m, three-year programme to establish new ways of helping people facing multiple disadvantages, such as mental ill health, domestic abuse, or substance misuse – Social Finance has been working with the 15 programme areas on their use of data. Across four blog posts we will outline various strands of this work, from what we’ve learned about the needs and experiences of data analysts, through to the use of data sharing agreements, how we’ve supported one area to link their operational and outcomes data, and how we’ve brought an awareness of qualitative research into the toolbox of data analysts. 

We hope to show the multifaceted work involved with bringing about services that can understand and make better use of data. This is not simply about analytics and dashboards, but about the ability to understand and ask what is useful?’ and get buy-in to the collation and effective use of data that puts people experiencing multiple disadvantages at its heart.

Other posts in this series:

Why we decided to focus on data sharing

People facing multiple disadvantage are often in contact with several organisations or services, such as social care, health, or housing. They may also receive services from charitable organisations, which collect their data in some form. This makes effective data sharing a key success factor for Changing Futures programme areas seeking to improve outcomes for those experiencing multiple disadvantage.

When we kicked off our data and digital support work for Changing Futures, we undertook a discovery phase, interviewing the data leads across the 15 areas to understand the problems they faced, so that we could scope and prioritise our support work. We then grouped the main issues by theme, and saw that the most common, mentioned by eight areas, was around constraints with data sharing.

An online collaboration tool with different coloured notes showing the results of interviews
The Miro board where we grouped themes from interviews.

The overall picture was that, though most areas had implemented some level of data sharing, they faced challenges in sharing data efficiently across multiple partners.

Although the 15 areas were at different points in their journey and didn’t share the same context or constraints, we identified some common themes:

  • Difficulties in coordinating data sharing in a multi-agency setting.
  • A struggle to get buy-in from stakeholders or key decision makers in the process. For example, one area told us that they had started to set up a group gathering people focusing on data but needed support in finding its purpose and identity’. 
  • Data analysts told us that they had to be substantially involved in the information governance (IG) work required to share data, and some felt that their knowledge around GDPR or the key agreements required for sharing data could be improved. 
  • Even with data sharing agreements in place, some areas told us that they still struggled to share data efficiently in practice. Some cited inconsistency in data sharing agreements between different organisations as a key issue, in turn causing inconsistency with the amounts of data shared, or differences in terminology. 
  • Some areas highlighted challenges with implementing systems that would allow them to share information securely, with the right level of permission.

What we have done to support areas on data sharing

As part of our support framework on data and digital, we have been facilitating a community of practice (CoP) with analysts from Changing Futures areas. We used this forum to deliver a workshop on data sharing best practices in order to reach as wide a group as possible, meeting them where they are in their data sharing journey and to allow some peer learning. Our priority was to upskill data analysts and help them feel more confident in carrying out some of the activities required to enable data sharing. 

We started the workshop by going through the fundamentals of GDPR and key information governance documents that would be most relevant to their context, to provide some foundational understanding and ensure that all participants were starting from the same point. 

The rest of the workshop consisted of lightning talk’-style case studies that would help to demonstrate best practices and cement these in real experience. We selected speakers with specific expertise; this included projects from Changing Futures Lancashire, Supporting Families Bristol, the London Innovation and Improvement Alliance (LIIA) and Kirklees Better Outcomes Partnership. 

We asked speakers to include their personal reflections from their work, as well as tips and advice that participants could take away. 

What we learned

The workshop provided a great opportunity to learn from those who had already undertaken this work, and we were left with a number of great tips for data sharing work. 

1. Get the right people together and work in a flexible manner 

Try to get relevant stakeholders from all partner organisations around the table as early as possible in the process. These are the people who will collectively define the scope, nature and purpose of data sharing. You should always involve the key information governance (IG) and data protection officers (DPO) as well as leaders with the right level of seniority to take things forward. 

Getting attendance and buy-in from the right people is often the hardest part, so it’s important to clearly articulate your purpose, how it necessitates the data sharing proposed, and how it will benefit data subjects. 

Some speakers noted how a data flow map can be a good way to clarify the scope and impact of the data sharing with partners. It can also help teams to build a deep understanding of the legal gateways, so they can identify which ones are relevant. 

It is important to co-create any data sharing framework with partners, and the data sharing, security, and information governance workstream is no different. Lancashire shared that in order to set their data sharing agreement, they led a co-design workstream with the Information Governance leads and Data Protection Officers to design this collectively. In setting up a data sharing platform for children’s services departments as part of the LIIA Child Level Data Project, Social Finance and London councils described how they made use of a pan-London body of data protection officers that had been established specifically to navigate the complexities of data sharing. 

2. Implement adequate systems

Changing Futures Lancashire and Kirklees Better Outcomes Partnership told us that it is important to have a robust technical platform that allows data to be shared securely, quickly, and with the right level of permission between partners. 

Having this in place can also reassure partners that there is a robust infrastructure behind the process, and may also support the creation of better-quality data, by helping to reduce duplication in the database. 

3. Don’t forget data privacy and the amount of data you collect 

Kirklees Better Outcomes Partnership also shared that they used a common privacy notice, which made it easier for participants to understand how their data was used across the whole partnership. 

They stressed the importance of asking only for the key information from clients, and described how they had moved away from requesting excessive sensitive information about a client’s past (which may be retraumatising) and instead aimed to focus on information about what they need. 


We were able to place the theory of data sharing firmly in the realm of what has been or could be achieved, bringing actual experience together to help support participants to understand the implications of different parts of data sharing 

We provided resources that attendees could return to later, helping them to use this information in practice, and by using case studies, we built relationships across the community and introduced other colleagues that would help participants to know who to reach out to for more support. 

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