The Risks of Knowing Too Much

In refining our health and social services for people who are experiencing homelessness, we have been talking a lot about better information sharing.  Individuals who access services are forced to complete the same forms and answer the same questions from one agency to another, to another.  This leads to what Jodi Pfarr calls ‘agency time’, the time people in poverty devote to just being a part of the system.  It would seem far more efficient if all agencies were linked through common databasing, so that a housing worker at the shelter would, for example, know if an application was already submitted for an individual by a housing worker at Ontario Works.

However, with any system refinement, we have to think of the unintended consequences.  In this case, I’m wondering about the unintended consequences of limiting access to services.  So, for example, much of what service users access where they are getting the same thing in multiple places in considered redundancy.  However, it might also equate to people getting what they need.

Let’s take food for an example.  I just learned the other day that the London Unemployment Help Centre has a food cupboard.  This finalizes it, every service in town has an emergency food cupboard.  So let’s take an individual, we’ll call her Jane Doe, and look at how she acquires food.  She might go to the Hospitality Centre for breakfast, access the food cupboard at InterCommunity Health for lunch, and go to the daily bread program for dinner.  The next day she might do the shelter for breakfast, a church for lunch, and Mobilizing Hope van for dinner.  If every agency charted her access of their food cupboard, her multiple uses might be seen as a redundancy.

So, the big risk of sharing information, is how is it used?  People experiencing homelessness have developed ‘work arounds’ so that they can meet their immediate needs.  Will information sharing close the door to these work arounds without also ensuring that needs are met?

2 thoughts on “The Risks of Knowing Too Much

  1. Based on talking with people who work in Toronto shelters — which now all share a single database — the answer to your question is yes.

    A lot of things that get implemented based upon reasons of “efficiency” tend to really be implemented in order to increase surveillance which, in turn, is a means of increasing society’s ability to discipline segments of the population that are viewed as non-producing and non-conforming.

  2. 1) having all your Provincial health data and your Social Services Data on Your OWN card carried by YOU! You are the owner and you have the PIN and you are in control

    Open Sourced Data base development rather than Proprietary data base development.
    Ground up. Single source Health Promotion workers in Africa do it why not North America! We can still use Client Centred Ownership..

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