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The interoperability challenge

Many community service organisations are funded by government to deliver specific programs. As part of the accountability regime, they collect data on their service delivery to report back to the funder. They are also assessed periodically according to quality assurance criteria.

While this kind of accountability is undoubtedly important, unfortunately it leads to significant problems for most funded agencies due to the following factors:

To address these issues, we have assembled an Interoperability Working Group (IWG) to clarify the specific issues around data and information systems and (hopefully) work with government to implement appropriate reforms. (Interoperability refers to a practice that enables information captured for one particular purpose to be subsequently exchanged and/or re-used for other purposes.) Current membership of the IWG is:

The IWG's purpose and scope is defined in its Terms of Reference.

Position paper

Work is currently underway on an initial position paper identifying the core issues. A public draft was released on 24 October 2008.

Concurrently, a series of short papers outlining the interoperability challenge is in production, written by members of the Interoperability Working Group and being published in VCOSS's monthly newsletter Noticeboard. They are also available here:

Integrating records, information, quality and knowledge management

On 19 February 2009 the Doing IT Better project hosted an afternoon workshop on how the fragmenting impact of multiple quality assurance frameworks (identified as one of seven key challenges in the position paper) could be addressed for community services organisations. Drawing on work undertaken by Melbourne University’s eScholarship Research Centre with the Children’s Protection Society, the workshop also highlighted how interoperability mechanisms in national institutions (such as the National Library) are currently being conceived and trialled. Read more...

2009 Interoperability Forum

On 5 March 2009 the Doing IT Better project hosted a one-day forum to develop a shared vision and a practical strategy to address the interoperability challenges facing the community 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.) Key resolutions included seeking endorsement from the Victorian Peaks and Statewides Forum for a sector-wide interoperability strategy and forming a sector-based community of practice to guide collaborative work with government, researchers and technical experts. Read more...

Background work

The Doing IT Better Interoperability Project had its genesis in work undertaken by the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare's Knowledge Broker role (generously supported by the Telstra Foundation and the Alfred Felton Chair in Child and Family Welfare, located in the School of Social Work at the University of Melbourne) — in particular the paper Towards a futures strategy for the Victorian community services sector: “A knowledge perspective” presented at the 2007 VCOSS Congress.

The project also draws from a considerable body of academic and industry-based work exploring interoperability and information and knowledge management.

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.