A new multi-agency data-sharing system developed by Thames Valley Police and the Violence Reduction Unit has received positive scrutiny by the Information Commissioner’s Office, with a final regulatory report published today (24 November).
At its simplest, Thames Valley Together aims toallow data from different partners – such as police, local authorities, HM Prisons & Probation, health, fire – to be placed into a single shared platform. By bringing together data from different systems and partners, it helps professionals to consider all the information, whether for a particular person or at an aggregated level for a particular geography.
The project is still in a developmental stage, but with the system built and information sharing agreements being finalised, gradually more organisations – such as Thames Valley Police and local authorities – are sharing data through the platform.
It is also a national innovation, with Thames Valley leading the way, and the project has received further funding from the Home Office to scale-up and share with other areas across the country.
In order to test its design and development and to reassure partners, the Thames Valley Together project was submitted to the Information Commissioner’s Office “Regulatory Sandbox” process. This is a service offered by the ICO to support the development of projects working with personal data in innovative and safe ways to deliver public benefit.
The sandbox process aims to scrutinise and give advice, explore areas for further development as well as to test legality and transparency of complex projects which work with personal data. It is intended to help an organisation to improve their project as they move through development.
Key points highlighted by the report include:
- Recognition of the ambition and potential of such a system, designed to help multi-agency partners across the Thames Valley work better together particularly in response to preventing serious violence and its causes.
- Recognition of the commitment made to designing in from the outset robust data protection measures.
- Recognition of the commitment to balancing necessity of sharing information to meet legal requirements, in particular the Serious Violence Duty, and the proportionality.
- Recognition of the commitment to transparency on the approach being taken.
- Encouragement for other partners to adopt the lessons and approaches being taken.
Thames Valley Police leads the programme across the partnership locally and has been able respond to all the areas identified, with development continuing over coming months.
Matthew Barber, the Police & Crime Commissioner for the Thames Valley who holds oversight of the wider partnership response to the Serious Violence Duty, said: “Sharing of information and data across our many systems, between organisations and across geographic boundaries is a constant challenge – particularly in the context of how we work together to tackle serious violence, its causes and to help those who are vulnerable.
“This system has the potential to significantly join-up the way we work and to help statutory agencies to meet the legal requirements of the Serious Violence Duty.
“But, we have to have the most robust processes and protections when working with personal data and these must come first.
“I thank those who have worked through the ICO’s process which has given additional reassurance to the direction being taken. I am encouraged that across our partnership, there is a commitment to ensuring a safe and transparent development of this project as we work to realise the benefits.”
Superintendent Lewis Prescott-Mayling, programme lead for the Thames Valley Together project, Thames Valley Police, said: “As new technology becomes available it allows us to better share information between statutory partners.
“Thames Valley Together has the potential to inform our work and to enable our decision-making as we do this, particularly as we seek to tackle the risk factors to violence and vulnerability.
“From the outset we have worked with all our partners on the development of the system and the agreements in place to achieve public benefit, to use data for good, but to do so in the safest possible way.
“Participating in the ICO Sandbox process has been challenging, but positively so. It has helped us to improve and develop the project and to provide further reassurance on the approach and direction. It is a privilege to be working at the forefront of these new approaches.”
Claire Chadwick, the ICO’s Group Manager for the Regulatory Sandbox, said: “By using our sandbox service, Thames Valley Police can ensure they build a system that enables partner organisations to share data in a responsible way to reduce serious crime. In implementing data protection by design and default, they are demonstrating their commitment to transparency and sharing data safely for the benefit of the public.”