Institutional Shaping of Interagency Working: Managing Tensions between Collaborative Working and Client Confidentiality
Posted: 9 Jul 2008
Date Written: July 2007
Tensions between imperatives for sharing of information about clients, patients, and offenders and those for confidentiality and privacy have become a prominent but unresolved issue in British public policy in the context of greater pressures toward interagency collaboration. This article analyses empirical data from a major Economic and Social Research Council-funded research project designed to provide the first systematic evidence about the ways in which local partnerships working in sensitive policy fields in England and Scotland attempt to strike settlements between sharing and confidentiality and discusses the impact of national government's attempts to increase formal regulation of their information-sharing practices. To do this, the project has developed a methodology to operationalize neo-Durkheimian institutional theory and demonstrates that theory in this tradition has the power to identify and explain patterns of information-sharing styles adopted in local collaborative working. The overall conclusion is that the stronger assertion of formal regulation by national government may well be leading to the greater prominence of hierarchical institutional forms but it may also be associated with the counterassertion of other institutional forms, too, and in ways that may reinforce problems that greater regulation is intended to address. In particular, we show that neither does increased formal regulation always lead frontline staff to be more confident about local information-sharing practices nor should it lead observers to be more confident that data-sharing practices will be more transparent or consistent from locality to locality.
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