Data Sharing FAQ

Do you have questions about data sharing? We have answers.

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Administrative data are collected by government agencies in the normal course of delivering social services and programs. Administrative data are often Personally Identifiable Information (PPI), meaning that, without the proper protections, they could potentially identify a specific individual in a data set. Therefore, agencies must comply with stringent federal regulations and privacy laws when they share or link data across agencies.

Leveraging information and data that’s already collected is often less time- and resource-intensive than collecting new data using surveys or other means. 

Sharing and linking administrative data across agencies can allow us to better:

  • Understand the complex needs of individuals and families
  • Allocate resources where they’re needed most to improve services 
  • Measure long-term and two-generation impacts of policies and programs
  • Engage in transparent, shared decision-making about how data should (and should not) be used

We recommend you start here and explore our Introduction to Data Sharing to learn more about the first steps towards ethical and effective data sharing and use and to access helpful planning tools for your collaboration. Most importantly, you’ll want to start by engaging stakeholders and data partners in conversations about your shared purpose and the risk vs. benefit of each potential use of data. For a nuanced discussion of balancing risk versus benefit, see A Toolkit for Centering Racial Equity Throughout Data Integration.

It depends! Sharing data must be done ethically and securely, in accordance with federal and state laws and regulations.

Data sharing and integration are subject to an intricate web of laws, many of which establish different confidentiality protections for different data assets. For example, the federal Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. § 552a (2000), is the omnibus “code of fair information practices” that regulates the collection, maintenance, use, and dissemination of personal information. FERPA and HIPAA are the federal laws governing education and health information, respectively.  Each of these federal laws include exemptions or exceptions that permit public agencies to share data for purposes of research, audit and evaluation, provided that appropriate data security policies and procedures are in place, and that identifying data are either not shared (de-identified research files are created) or if shared they are not redisclosed (governed by a business agent agreement or other contract).

For more information on these federal laws and important considerations for crafting a legal approach to data sharing that fits your purpose, see Finding a Way Forward: How to Create a Strong Legal Framework for Data Integration.

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