MANAGEMENT OF RELATIONSHIPS WITH DATA CUSTODIANS
Establish governance and rules
The most important strategy for managing a range of risks with the use of administrative data is the maintenance of ongoing relationships with the data custodians of the source data. These relationships should be established to varying degrees at all levels from the Chief Executive down to operational staff.
It is always a sound principle to maintain good relationships with the data custodians of information to be used for statistical purposes. Unlike the direct collection of information the use of administrative data as a source introduces a third party into the supply chain. Sometimes even a fourth party if the data custodians of the source data contract out the management of its day to day operation. These additional parties have other obligations and interests and for them the production of statistics from their source data will often be of secondary or lower importance.
Administrative data systems are usually set up by, and operate under, other legislation with specific objectives to be delivered by the data custodian. In addition, more general legislation relating to privacy also applies. The best way forward is for the various agencies involved to work together to achieve their respective objectives in accordance with their respective legislation.
In any successful relationship, the foremost principle is to understand the needs of the data custodians (and managers) of the administration data. However, it is important to make sure the data custodians understand the value of the statistical information which can be produced from their data and the critical requirements of the data for producing statistics of the required quality. This is especially important if the contact person changes as relationships will need to be re-established. Also, priorities and perspectives will need to be re-discovered or at least checked to see if they are consistent with the previous contact. Due to the large number of data custodians that have contracted out their information technology work, developing a good relationship with these contractors is important as they may not be aware of the quality of the data provided. Hence, helping them to understand the statistical aspects of the data and how it is used as well as what is done with it, will be useful to these contractors.
The following is a list which has been compiled from the experiences of the ABS in establishing and maintaining sound relationships with data custodians:
Provide advice and help
- Use some form of written agreement between the parties. These agreements have come in a variety of forms over the years but essentially set out objectives and obligations for both sides. Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs), Data Service Agreements, and Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are examples of agreements used. An SLA or MOU covering what is collected and in what form etc. is good practice for both parties involved. The SLA or MOU should specify what, when and how information is to be provided, the confidentiality requirements of both the data custodian and the receiving agency, the security requirements around the handling of the data, etc. It should have quality requirements specified and obligations on the part of parties should these requirements not be met.
- Establish some form of governance arrangements involving senior managers, at least for critical stages of projects such as implementation of a new or revised system. Consider involving wider relationships by involving other stakeholders with an interest in ensuring successful utilisation of the source data. The arrangements should provide for the management of incidents which can impact on supply and quality.
- If a new administrative source is being established which will be of value statistically then the ideal situation is for the receiving agency to be involved with the project right from the start so statistical aspects can be built into the system being implemented. This however is rarely the case as most systems have been around a long time. The next best option is for the receiving agency to be involved when the administrative systems are being redesigned to meet changed objectives or to operate under new information technology. This ensures that statistical requirements can be considered and catered for.
- Understand what expertise from within the receiving agency can bring to bear on a project or to support ongoing operation. This expertise includes statistical coding software, information management skills, statistical standards for collecting and using certain information (e.g. demographic information about a respondent, geographic classification).
- Establish a champion for statistical use within the data custodian agency. This could be a senior executive or a key user of the statistics (e.g. policy evaluator associated with the administrative system). Sometimes the information is so critical that agreements need to be reached between the respective chief executives.
- Providing feedback to the data custodian at the end of each cycle is a useful process as it offers the opportunity to inform the data custodian about how their own processes can be improved. This will encourage the data custodian to use the information given to improve upon their own internal process and hence improve the data provided for future cycles. Regular reviews of on-going collections are important.
- Ensure the data custodians understand the value and importance of the key statistics produced from their source. This includes ensuring they understand the key quality requirements such as accuracy and timeliness of supply, and of course the impact of disruption of supply.
- Maintain continuous contact with the data custodian through email, telephone, in person etc. This contact should not be limited to when the receiving agency requires something from the data custodian.
- Internal relations also need to be maintained to ensure that there are not multiple people from the receiving agency all vying for the attention of the data custodian.
- Map not only the data custodian of the data but also other users of the data who may be able to influence the data custodian. This is beneficial when changes might need to be made to the existing administrative dataset e.g. the addition of extra questions, wording changes etc. The receiving agency can seek assistance from the influential users to assist with getting potential changes implemented to the administrative collections where there are mutual benefits for the changes.