Transition Times



Back in October 2016 it came to C.N.A’s notice that some new requirements from MSD were appearing in the contracts of some service providers.  These clauses required providers to report client level data in order to receive funding for the services they provide. There was a very strong reaction to this as many organisations, working with highly vulnerable people felt that many of their clients would not seek help if a criteria for accessing service involved them agreeing to their individual identifiable details being reported to MSD.

ComVoices ( a Wellington based network of national community and voluntary organisations) had some serious conversations on what this meant not only for contracts and ethics, but also how this changed the basic role of NGOs with their clients and Government.

An issues paper was produced on the 9th of December 2016 followed by the formation of a ComVoices sub-committee to try and talk to MSD about the impact of this issue.

The sub-committee which comprised representatives of 7-8 national organisations worked very hard at pulling together broad opinions and discussing the problems following an MSD seminar in Wellington with other organisations and with MSD staff.  A meeting was also held with the Privacy Commissioner who had commissioned a report following complaints to his office. The report from the Privacy Commissioner was released on 6 April 2017.  This report included four recommendations for MSD to consider about better ways of working to obtain the information required.

On March 16 2017, after the release of the Privacy Commissioner’s report, ComVoices wrote a letter to four Ministers of the Crown suggesting a collaborative way of working together to gain access toappropriate data which would enable them to find out the information we were told repeatedly was necessary for good social investment.  We received limited response to our request.

The Community and Voluntary Sector in the meantime had become increasingly agitated about this contract requirement, and national media were running frequent stories about the data collection requirements.  Contracts were clearly expecting service delivery organisations to start saving data immediately for upload to the government website on July 1 2017.

Then 6th April 2017, the media was full of a story about a privacy breach at the Ministry.  It put a halt to the plans for data collection while an investigation into the breach occurred.  This led to an urgent debate in the house where most of the opposition parties spoke strongly against the identification of clients and the sharing of sensitive date being required by MSD.

The ComVoices sub-committee was contacted, and finally had a meeting with Minister Tolley where calm heads and co-design were the main discussions.  It was a relief to have a conversation that took on-board sector considerations.

Following these occurrences, the review on the data breach claimed Deputy Chief Executive Murray Edridge, who stepped down after taking responsibility for staff mistakes.

A new plan which included working with the sector was proposed and printed on the MSD site on 24 May 2017.   Since then some service providers have received notices regarding changed plans for their 1 July data collection, and the entire subject is to be revisited by a team working with Minister Adams.

There is more work to be done yet and the final result of this is likely to be dependent on the upcoming election.  The Community and Voluntary sector is not adverse to data collection, in fact, we want to know ourselves how well we are doing for our clients.  So we hope that we can work constructively with everyone to ensure that collection of data is of value and does not incur privacy invasion or unintended adverse consequences.

Ros Rice
Community Networks Aotearoa

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Photo: bruceandrobyn