Studies of Welfare Populations: Data Collection and Research Issues. Data Access Principles That Have to Do With the Characteristics of Requesting Organization

06/01/2002

Principle 7: The Reputation and Integrity of the Requesting Organization Engenders Trust

In many cases, we found that the reputation of the requesting agency was a major factor in successfully obtaining approval for the use of administrative data. This reputation can be technical, academic, or professional. We found that some of our respondents were reassured by the sheer prominence of the requesting organization.

However, in most cases, feelings of confidence were firmly based on the earned substantive reputation of the requesting organization. Most of the examples we found were organizations that had established a reputation through extensive experience with similar types of research and therefore provided key expertise. For example, Chapin Hall has a well-deserved reputation for its extensive technical expertise in the complex issue of matching administrative data from child and family welfare systems. In fact, Chapin Hall's reputation is so great that the Illinois Department of Human Services believes that it could do no better than subcontract with Chapin Hall when doing any matching of children's and families' services data.

Another example comes from Massachusetts, where the Department of Transitional Assistance contracted with the Center for Survey Research at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, to field the survey of former TAFDC (Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children) households. The Department of Transitional Assistance provided the Center for Survey Research with confidential data necessary for developing a sample of welfare leavers. It was reported that the department chose the center in large part because of the center's local reputation for expertise and competence.

Principle 8: Trust Between Organizations, a History of Working Together, and Strong Personal Relationships

Of all the guiding principles, trust between organizations appears to make the most wide-ranging contribution to successful data access. In our interviews with Welfare Leavers Study grantees, and in discussions with other researchers and state and nongovernmental staff, we learned of countless longstanding relationships between departments, between organizations, and between individuals. These relationships played a large and very important role in establishing the trust and confidence necessary for smooth contract negotiation and productive collaboration in the Welfare Leavers Studies.

The separation of Principle 7, "Reputation," and Principle 8, "Trust," does not mean these two are mutually exclusive, but it is meant to imply they are somewhat different. Past projects may have been established because of the requesting organization's reputation, but future projects depend heavily on the development of trust. In many cases, the established association was continued because the projects went well. In some cases, however, it was reported that the past project was not entirely successful, but that the association was continued, it seems, merely based on personal friendships or the force of one or more personalities (not necessarily friendships). Whatever the case, these prior relationships were a major factor in the success of the majority of the data access efforts we examined, including projects in California (San Francisco Bay area counties), Washington, DC, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, New York, Ohio, and South Carolina.

Obviously, this phenomenon is not limited to welfare leavers projects. California, New York, Missouri, Arizona, and Texas respondents all reported knowledge of data access projects that were facilitated because of personal relationships. Indeed, it should be noted here that many of these longstanding relationships were the result of Principle 1, Strong Leadership.

Principle 9: Develop a Confidentiality/Security Procedure and Keep a Catalog of Exemplary Written Contracts, MOU's, and Personal Security Agreements.

This principle is parallel to Principle 3 except that it applies to the requesting organization. Every data-requesting organization should maintain a file of data access and confidentiality documents. Such a resource provides reassurance to the providing agency that the requester has given appropriate consideration to the issues of data access. In fact, one state administrator said they do not take seriously organizations that do not have a written procedure. Furthermore it allows the requesting agency to respond quickly to data access opportunities without having to reinvent the wheel. UC Data Archive and Technical Assistance at the University of California, at Berkeley has a Manual on Confidentiality and Security, which includes exemplar contracts, personal security agreements, and description of extensive data security procedures.

Principle 10 discusses briefly what confidentiality and security procedures one might want to include in a contract and therefore in the archive of documents.

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