Doing IT BetterVictorian Council of Social ServiceMonash University

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Addressing the interoperability challenge

On 5 March 2009, the Doing IT Better project hosted a one-day forum to bring together relevant people from government, the community sector, the ICT industry, and academia to examine the challenges, identify solutions, and together start to develop a shared vision and a concrete strategy to make real progress on the interoperability challenges facing the community services sector. (Interoperability describes the mechanisms by which data and information designed, created and captured for one particular set of purposes is exchanged and subsequently re-used for a completely different set of purposes. This is necessary to eliminate the multiple reporting that plagues government funded community service organisations.)

Over 40 people attended the forum, which was chaired by Professor Allan Fels, AO. Currently Dean of the Australian and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG), Professor Fels is best known in the community sector for chairing the Steering Committee of the Victorian Government’s Stronger Community Organisations Project (SCOP) in 2007. The SCOP report and its associated Action Plan identifying organisational efficiency and quality/accountability reporting as areas requiring action was a key factor in VCOSS making interoperability and information systems reform a priority in its ICT-focused work.

After the introductory session, in which VCOSS CEO Cath Smith and CCNR (Centre for Community Networking Research, Monash University, who are partnering with VCOSS in Doing IT Better) Director Graeme Johanson spoke of the great importance of work in this area and the significance of the partnership approach in addressing ICT issues in the sector, the day unfolded progressively with three plenary sessions followed by a planning workshop. In the first plenary, the scope and significance of the problems was outlined and discussed by three representatives of community service organisations. The link between flexible, integrated information systems and the quality of service delivery was highlighted. The second plenary featured presentations from community organisations and a government department (the Department of Human Services) on practical work they are undertaking to address key elements of the interoperability puzzle. The third comprised a number of researchers and technical experts who discussed innovative projects they were undertaking that together could form the technical foundation of fully interoperable information systems between government and the sector.

The final workshop session was charged with generating ideas and strategies for the way ahead. The key resolutions were:

A more detailed report on the forum and its outcomes will be posted here soon

Electronic presentations from the forum can be downloaded here

For more information on any of the above or on the project in general, please contact me on (03) 9654 5050 or at dean.lombard AT

Doing IT Better is a social justice initiative of the Centre for Community Networking Research (Faculty of Information Technology, Monash University) and the Victorian Council of Social Service, generously funded by a foundation.