Trust & Interoperability

by | Feb 3, 2020 | ICT4D |

In talking about data sharing, it’s easy for governance and technology to be confused. And frankly, even trust. This is played out everyday when we talk about system interoperability.

The question is innocent enough. Is system X interoperable with system Y? Often the question is focused on the technology because someone doesn’t know enough about technology. However, the answer depends and must always be in at least three parts. So here we go.


At a technical level do the two systems have the ability to export and import data from each other? This can be manual or automatic. And with most systems today, we can figure out a way (depends a bit on size of budget). So often, this is not the problem. And now we move on the trickier parts.


The governance part of the answer will depend on various factors mostly about the two entities using the two systems rather than the systems themselves. Things like: Is there an existing data sharing agreement in place? Do the two entities operate in locations with the same legal jurisdiction? Do agreements about data use, data retention, and so on exist? Have the data subjects consented to their data being shared? And so on.


And then there is trust; in two parts. Part one, is more technology best. The inquirer may want to know if there is a way in the technology to provide assurance that the data that is labelled as coming from system X is actually from system X and not hacked. This is not a common question. And it is possible to provide this assurance, but it is complicated and most systems don’t provide this yet.

The second part of trust of has nothing to do with technology, but everything to do with interoperability. If I am the user of system X, but you as the user of system Y, do not trust me, you will not share information. Even though at a technical level the systems can share data, they are not interoperable because you do not trust me. And this trust can be about many things: the processes I use, the security I implement, the quality of the information I have, who my partners are, with whom I share information, and so on.

It’s hard to talk about system interoperability without talking about trust and governance. And yet, we often do and then wonder why it doesn’t work.

Photo by John Barkiple


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