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Monday 23 April 2018


Sharing Information

Version: KR/TP/10/1.0

Author: Linda Meadows

Why is this important?

Effective sharing of information between agencies is a key requirement for Integrated Offender Management. Integrated Offender Management requires agencies to be willing and able to share appropriate, accurate information on offenders with other organisations in a timely manner. Examples of poor/ineffective information sharing and the risks it presents re well documented1 and are briefly summarised below:


  • Agencies cannot effectively manage risk to themselves or to others because they don't have access to the right information at the right time;

  • Agencies do not know what work has already been done with an offender or

  • Agencies duplicate assessments because information gathered by one agency is not passed on to another, resulting in inefficiency, wasted staff time and offenders who disengage

  • Agencies pass on inappropriate information which contravenes data protection legislation

  • Agencies do not pass on information to the right people

  • Agencies do not store information appropriately which risks contravention of data protection and other relevant legislation

  • Offenders receive inappropriate management/interventions because those managing them don’t have the full picture



Things to consider when sharing and managing information in IOM

The legislative framework

The legislative framework is complex but there are a range of resources available which outline clearly the legislation affecting the sharing of information on offenders - the National Support Framework - Delivering Safer and Confident Communities: Information Sharing for Community Safety: Guidance and Practice advice accessible at gives a very clear summary of the legislation including:


  • Acts which enable or require information to be shared: The Crime and Disorder Act 1998; The Police and Justice Act 2006 and the Criminal Justice and Court Service Act 2000

  • The Law governing information sharing: Data Protection Act 1998; Human Rights Act 1998, the Caldicott Principles; common law duty of confidentiality and the Freedom of Information Act 2000 2


The range and quality of resources relating to the legislative environment demonstrate its critical importance. Given the ready availability of such guidance, this thought piece will look beyond the legislation at the other issues which may impact on/impede information sharing between agencies.



Looking beyond the regulations

Cultural differences between the agencies involved in IOM can inhibit or impede information sharing even when information sharing protocols are in place. For example, the ethos and values of statutory and voluntary sector organisations can be very different and working within IOM can create tensions where these different organisational cultures clash. In some recent research3 there was evidence that some VCS organisations can be reluctant to disclose information which they feel might damage their working relationship with the offender - for example, they might feel uncomfortable sharing information about an offender who has breached the terms of their order if that might result in a statutory agency taking action. Conversely, statutory agencies may "expect" VCS organisations to be reluctant to share this information, even where this is not the case. This in itself could serve to create a sense of mistrust of the VCS by statutory agencies.

In this research, there was also a sense amongst some VCS and statutory agencies that VCS organisations could not be trusted with sensitive information - either because they were unaccustomed to handling it or because of (perceived or actual) limitations in their IT equipment and data security practices. The stringent data security requirements can be difficult for smaller organisations to meet - this might be because costs are prohibitive, equipment unsuitable or due simply to a lack of IT skills within the organisation. Clearly agencies involved need to satisfy themselves that the IT arrangements for all organisations involved in IOM are sufficiently secure and robust to enable information sharing but even if the lack is perceived, rather than actual, this can still inhibit willingness to share and transfer data between agencies.

Co-location is seen as a facilitator for information sharing and there is certainly evidence that information sharing is easier where teams are co-located. This can also help address issues of data security. While co-location is clearly an enabler for information sharing, it is not a panacea and, in fact, could also lead to potentially poorer practice - for example a tendency to share information informally rather than via formal IT/case management systems with the consequent risks where information is held by individuals rather than shared more systematically.

Further issues can occur where technology is incompatible or where data is stored in different formats which make sharing of information more difficult. Using industry standard software or, where bespoke systems are used, ensuring that outputs conform to (or can be output in) standard formats can help to address this. Agreeing standard forms - eg for assessment, case management etc can also assist in ensuring information can be readily shared and easily understood between agencies.

Ensuring that a common language is used is also important to ensure that all agencies have the same understanding of terminology used. In one project, for example, it eventually became clear that two agencies were using different definitions of domestic abuse - one to indicate perpetrators; another to indicate victims. While not all examples will be as potentially serious as this one - it makes the point that agencies need to take the time to check and ensure that terminology is understood and used consistently across all agencies.

Information sharing protocols are important but they need to be fit for purpose and understood by all agencies involved. Even when seemingly comprehensive, where protocols are poorly understood the risks of non compliance are, of course, much higher. Some protocols are not fit for purpose because they are not applicable to the particular circumstances. In the IOM VCS research (Wong et al, 2012) for example the information sharing protocol which existed was not suitable for one of the primary needs which was to enable offenders to take up volunteering opportunities.

Where VCS organisations use volunteers, this can raise particular issues for statutory agencies. Agencies may need to ensure either that volunteers do not have access to information from other organisations or that they are covered by any data sharing agreements and are fully trained in the handling of information.

Keeping too much information can, in some instances, carry as much risk as keeping too little. Not only does the organisation risk being in breach of data protection legislation but also of basing decisions on out of date or inaccurate data. In some instances, the focus on sharing information and information security is at the expense of a proper processes for ensuring that information is properly disposed of or deleted when it is no longer required. Organisations need to consider for how long information needs to be stored and ensure that there are robust processes in place for reviewing and deleting/disposing of information.

In order to work effectively together, organisations need to consider, not just how they store, codify and share existing information but also how they can work together to add value by creating new organisational knowledge. The real value of statutory and VCS organisations working together within integrated offender management is when it can use the distinct strengths, skills, attributes and knowledge from each organisation to form new and innovative practices and ways of working. There are a range of tools and techniques from the discipline of knowledge management which help to achieve this - including action learning sets, cross functional teams, master classes and communities of practice.

Organisations also need to consider the role of tacit knowledge within their organisations. Explicit knowledge is usually defined as that which has been externalised, expressed and codified. Tacit knowledge, on the other hand is ‘embedded in individual experience and involves intangible factors such as personal belief, perspective and the value system’ (Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995)4. Staff within an organisation may be unaware of what they know or how they can share it with others. In this way, tacit knowledge may be difficult or impossible to articulate formally and thus is more difficult to share but often underpins how decisions are made and actions taken . Transfer of tacit knowledge requires a culture of trust and regular and sustained interaction , it cannot be managed in the same way as explicit knowledge which can be captured in computer systems or written down. One of the major benefits of co-location is in its ability to create more trusting and open relationships which make the transfer of tacit knowledge more likely (though, as indicated above, this is not without risk). Understanding cultural differences between agencies and appreciating the strengths that each can bring is important in enabling tacit knowledge to be discovered and shared.

In trying to create truly integrated offender management, it is vital to address issues beyond the creation of the information sharing protocols and technical infrastructure. Different processes, organisational cultures, values and objectives, if not recognised and addressed, will impede the success of any integrated approach. Effective knowledge management is, at its simplest, about harnessing all the knowledge within an organisation and outside it in related or partner organisations and ensuring that the total of these knowledge assets are brought to bear in a given situation or to address a particular problem – it is clear that the objective of integrated offender management is, in essence, a knowledge management objective. Information sharing protocols and shared IT systems merely provide a possible infrastructure to enable that to happen. It is important to remember, however, that this is not the only way of enabling knowledge to be shared and that, particularly in the case of, for example, tacit knowledge, it may not even be the most effective.


Questions for organisations to consider:

  • Do information sharing protocols exist and are they fit for purpose?

  • Do we have policies and training in place that covers all staff - including volunteers

  • Is there genuine understanding and appreciation of each organisations skills, values and attributes

  • Is co-location making us lazy about more systematic recording of information?

  • Do we have an information retention schedule and a strategy for disposing of out of date information?

  • Have we made every effort to standardise forms, inputs and outputs

  • Do we all mean the same thing by the terminology we use?

  • What can we do to innovate and bring the best from each organisation to create new organisational knowledge?

  • Do we understand the tacit knowledge that underpins and shapes the decisions within the partner organisations?

  • Are we bringing everything we know (i.e. from all our partners) to bear in managing the offender?




1 See, for example: Process Evaluation of Five Integrated Offender Management Pioneer Areas ; National Support Framework Delivering Safer and Confident Communities: Information Sharing for Community Safety Guidance and Practice advice
2 15:22
3 Wong, K. et al (2012) Increasing the voluntary and community sector’s involvement in Integrated Offender Management. Research Report 59.  London: Home Office
4 Nonaka, I. and Takeuchi, H. (1995) The Knowledge Creating Company. Oxford: Oxford University Press