Integrating data systems across municipal human services departments (such as those of public health, social work, and education) may conjure up images of Big Brother for some but, according to Dr. John Fantuzzo of the University of Pennsylvania, the spirit that we bring to the task may have the greatest ramifications: “The integration of data systems across city agencies can empower regular people if we take advantage of the opportunity by presenting attractive interfaces with thoughtfully organized information to the general public. If we continue to see data as simple a mechanism for fulfilling reporting requirements, however, I do think that we will have missed a big opportunity.”
Fantuzzo, along with his fellow principal investigator, Dr. Dennis Culhane, and Executive Director, Dr. Phillip Hawkins, is leading an effort to establish a community of experts who can establish standards, ethical and technical, for the establishment of Integrated Data Systems across human services departments; can develop research regarding best practices in the field; and who can then proceed to guide interested parties in improving the coordination of data collection, sharing, and analysis across departments, and between institutions and the general public. The work builds on Culhane and Fantuzzo’s earlier collaboration with Dr. Trevor Hadley (all three of Penn) to develop a Kids Integrated Data Systems (KIDS), in Philadelphia, that Fantuzzo suggests could eventually become part of that city’s governance practices.
Fantuzzo’s ambitions are high: “The demand to make data relevant to, and interactive with, the lives of teachers, parents, doctors, and all community members is an ethical, as well as an economic, one. We shouldn’t just deal with data as if its collection and distribution were a formal ritual designed only to release funds.”