Data transparency and information sharing A case study from “Combatting Blindness in Peru”

Patient post-surgery

Between July 2014 and June 2018, CBM’s Combatting Blindness in Peru project was delivered through a cluster of six partner organisations across 13 regions, with support from the Seeing is Believing initiative funded by Standard Chartered and CBM.

Through project monitoring, anecdotal evidence was collected about high levels of data and information sharing between some partners throughout the project. In order to investigate this element of the project further, CBM collected information from partners about data transparency, the causes and effects of sharing between partners, as well as any challenges encountered.

As part of a final evaluation of the project, semi-structured interviews were conducted individually with senior clinicians and managers at partner organisations, in order to further explore lessons learnt relating to data transparency and information sharing within the project. Follow-up calls were made by CBM staff to gain further details where necessary. Interviews were recorded and transcribed, and analysed using thematic analysis.

A key driver for sharing data was the desire to improve the quality of programme implementation and to attract more patients. There was a receptiveness to act on best practice and advice shared because of the focus on programme quality and attracting patients. This was underpinned by a common commitment to work on programmes with a social aim, to reach the most marginalised communities.

Informal information sharing was strong amongst most partners, who had worked together for many years. Forming a cluster is likely to have enhanced teamwork, although cohesion between various partners was already high. Modes of communication included calls, messaging and conference attendance rather than emails alone, which tended to be less useful for this kind of sharing. These were used to exchange technical advice, provide project progress updates, solve project challenges, provide mutual support and maintain relationships.

The following findings of the case study may be relevant for similar health projects to consider:

  • For partners working together on a project, making an explicit commitment to share data and work together to facilitate problem solving and the achievement of best practice at the outset of a project can be valuable, establishing common goals and values of transparency and collaboration.
  • The value of investment in administrative and data management systems to improve service delivery should not be underestimated. This project has shown that changing these systems can enable improved data analysis and learning, thereby leading to tangible improvements for patients in terms of care, resulting in better outcomes. Consequently, partners have been able to operate at higher volumes that are more cost efficient.
  • Where partner organisations have long histories of working together and well-established personal relationships between senior staff, projects should leverage the trust generated to promote close working and sharing of information. In such cases, projects should encourage informal collaboration to improve partners’ ability to learn from each other, through face-to-face meetings or using instant messaging, going beyond the use of email communications. Budgeting for frequent meetings for partners to come together can further build trust and personal relationships, and provide opportunities for sharing of best practice which can make a tangible difference to project progress and problem solving. Trainings, particularly when delivered at partner sites, and mentoring visits can also serve this function.
  • Projects should invest sufficient resources to ensure information shared with project management staff and with donors is also shared amongst implementing partners. An annual or six monthly basis for formal data sharing was not considered sufficiently frequent for partners during this project. However, the benefits of more frequent formal methods of information sharing should be weighed against the extra time required. Formal sharing of output and outcome data should also be carried out carefully amongst implementing partners, based on the levels of trust amongst partners and with an emphasis on learning rather than comparison; financial data may be more difficult to share than project data related to outputs or outcomes.
  • Knowledge sharing amongst partners was seen to be particularly valuable where there were similarities in operating contexts, or technical expertise to learn from. Having a partner who is able to provide significant technical leadership is likely to be important to facilitate collaboration and consolidate the value of openness and information sharing. It may also be valuable for projects to encourage collaboration between sub-sets of partners with similar contexts, for example through regional meetings.

This project has shown that sharing information transparently and improving data systems, along with good relationships between partner organisations and effective planning, can make a significant difference for eye health staff and patients. With supportive and transparent relationships in place, fostered through working together on this project, the partner organisations involved are keen to continue working as an eye health cluster into the future.

Jorge Sanchez and Ned Carter