Technology is the easy bit

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    Thursday13Feb 2020
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    Guest Blog: Chris Gledhill, PDMS, explores some of the factors that hamper true multi-agency collaboration and how they might be overcome with a different approach. as...

Finding ways to facilitate multi agency collaboration in the context of public safety is…not that easy to say, and it turns out, not that easy to do either!  As a technologist with a sincere belief in the power of technology to make things better, I have always found it a bit puzzling that sharing information for relatively trivial purposes is so much easier than, for example, ensuring that medical information is always available in a timely manner to those who need it in an emergency.

The key to this conundrum is of course that it has very little to do with technology.  At least it’s not about what technology can do but about how it is commissioned and paid for.  ‘Multi agency collaboration’ does not typically have a budget or an established hierarchy, so projects, when they happen, tend to be run by committee.  Each agency will have its own risk appetite and attitude to compliance - to GDPR for example.  And, one of the biggest stumbling blocks, the effort and benefits of a project may not be equally shared by all the committee members although the intended project outcomes may be very great for the public in general.

Similarly, most of us would be very keen to have our information shared effectively in an emergency situation but we don’t want that to be a justification for a general invasion of our privacy by organisations we may not fully trust or know.  

The issues then are organisational and cultural and no amount of behind the scenes tinkering within existing organisational silos or brave new technology horizons will actually work unless the core issues are addressed.  

So how do we fund projects that bridge multiple agencies and get people to buy into and, importantly, trust them?  ‘Digital transformation projects’ which only consider the needs of the siloed funding agency simply repeat the same mistakes.  Agencies that need to collaborate should focus on establishing what they have in common and defining standards for data and communication which can be shared openly with the wider tech ecosystem of industry, academia and entrepreneurship.  State the problems and define the potential benefits rather than try and design a solution.

Likewise, the individual needs to be empowered to own and take responsibility for their own data and actions.  Collaboration should be by consent and something we all see as a right and a privilege rather than a complex and burdensome bureaucracy.  We would all like to contribute to public (our own) safety where we can.

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