It is generally assumed that data sharing is a good thing (when done well). But what if it isn’t necessary? What if there are other, equally effective, ways to accomplish your goal? What should we choose?
For example, referrals.
I come to agency X asking for assistance. “I’m sorry sir that is not a service we supply. However, we think agency Y does. They can be found at location A.” (Agency could be replaced with company, store, etc. And service, with product.) You could have a stack of business cards of the other agencies to hand out. Or a map of where they are located to hand out.
And yes, you are sharing information about what services (or products) other agencies provide. To do so, collectively you would need to share this information with each other. But what you are not doing is sharing the individual’s data. You are not collecting my data and passing it along to another agency. You don’t need to. If you did, you’d increase organisational risk and the risk to me. And in reality, there would be no benefit to me.
I visit my family doctor in a clinic. The doctor needs to refer me to a hospital for further tests or surgery. My doctor asks me if it’s ok for her to share my medical history with the hospital. I consent, so she shares it. I arrive at the hospital and do not need to fill medical history forms because they already have that information.
It’s a referral but a different type and a different type of information. Even in this scenario, the referral can work without the data sharing. But there are benefits to it.
Improving our collaboration with other actors/agencies is likely a good thing. However, it is not wise to start with data sharing as it results in data about people being spread more widely. It’s better to start with a business process. In the example above, it would be to agree on how you will refer people to each other. What will the process be? How will you know who is doing what? If other agencies have capacity to take on referrals? And so on.
Whenever we can minimise the data we collect, perhaps we should choose that route. Whenever we can not share data about others, perhaps we should choose that route.