Sally arrives at her desk after a long day engaging with community members. She’s spent the day on her feet registering people, explaining what they are entitled to and where to get it. This is her daily routine, while colleagues provide services to the community. At the end of a week, Sally begins to analyse the information in their collective database.
While making a cup of coffee, she a SMS from a friend in another NGO. She is reminded how there are others like her in each NGO doing similar work, with similar datasets all over the response. She messages a few of them to set up a lunch date for tomorrow. And then it’s back to the data.
Over lunch, Sally asks the question she’s been thinking about all night. “All of our organisations are working with the same people. Sometimes we duplicate efforts, while other people miss out. Why can’t we have a single database, which we all work off of?”
“You mean like a master beneficiary list?” asks Fred.
“Yes, I guess so, but it also would need to capture the interactions we have with people, so we know who has been already ‘served’ and who is being missed.”
“Sounds like hacker heaven to me” replies Fred. “And yet, I can see the appeal.”
“Ok yes, there is that. But there are lots of people advocating for one big central database. What want to understand is why do you think our organisations don’t share information more?”
“Well, security is a big issue and I think it’s one reason we don’t share. But also that my organisation is based in US while yours is in Europe, so we have different legal issues to worry about.”
Fatima leans forward, hand on the table. “I think we talk nice, but we don’t actually trust each other. We don’t trust each other’s security as Fred mentioned. But also, I don’t think we trust each other’s processes. If your organisation registers someone, my org needs to trust that you did it in a way that we think is good enough.”
“So standards are missing, is that it?” interjects Sally.
“Yes, standards would help.”
“We don’t even agree on what is and isn’t sensitive data” adds Fred.
“And let’s not forget we are competitors” Harry, who has been listening, pipes up. Everyone turns to him. “We compete over income. My supervisors have their performance graded on how much income is brought in. And the data we have from our projects is viewed as a competitive advantage, so it’s guarded.”
There was a collective sigh as the group of four realised the truth being stated. Sally, ever the optimist, said “There must be a way”. The conversation changed course and they finished their lunch. But Sally mind was churning already, wrestling with the challenge. “Have a good week everyone!” The friends departed, back to their different organisations, and different datasets.
Photo by Devin Avery