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NGA Initiative Could Enable Data-Sharing on Policy Between Agencies

Minnesota's participation in an eight-state National Governors Association collaboration could enable better cross-agency health-care data-sharing as well as sharing in the area of policy-making.

Minnesota officials hope a new collaboration with the National Governors Association (NGA) will yield new ideas around sharing health data, enabling the state to further capitalize on its work in evidence-based policy-making and do even more with data.

The state is one of eight selected in June by the NGA to join a health policy partnership on data best practices, along with Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Vermont and Washington. The 16-month collaboration, "Harnessing the Power of Data to Achieve State Policy Goals: The Foundation for State Success in Improving Quality and Reducing Costs," is ramping up with its first of two convenings planned for October.

NGA, which works with governors on public policy and governance issues, has long considered how best to help states improve their data systems while cutting costs and better assisting residents. It chose Minnesota as one of the eight in this project, an official said earlier this year, for a shared desire to drill down on “cross-sector data sharing.”

Stefanie Horvath, executive director of enterprise services at Minnesota IT Services (MNIT), said the state is eager to work with NGA and the other participants on “more general cross-sector or cross-agency data sharing,” to build on endeavors that date to Gov. Mark Dayton’s Better Government for a Better Minnesota initiative, and the cabinet-level desire to share data dating back to 2013 and 2014.

But the state is also looking at how agencies share data when it makes sense for a policy, and proactively building policy by examining and understanding the data that they already possess. Minnesota has been pushing this, Horvath said, to use data to make better policies and measure the outcome to confirm state government is making a difference.

“There is a need for data sharing across state agencies for better policies. And now MNIT is just trying to figure out, what’s the mechanism, what’s the risk from doing it and how can we develop policies, controls, cybersecurity controls, access controls that really look at the legal concerns and issues that have been brought up, the storage requirements that will be entailed; and then, of course, the privacy issues,” Horvath said.

“We’re not measuring the outcome of the policy, we’re actually pulling the data in first and understanding it, reviewing it to make a better policy on the front end,” she added, describing the process as more proactive than reactive.

In this area, officials are looking at “three tracks” relative to sharing data more effectively and efficiently, said Ellena Schoop, an enterprise data architect/senior data governance planner. These include considering a legal framework around policy and privacy, and data practices that would empower sharing; the infrastructure needed around a privacy framework and how privacy is maintained as data is shared. Also under consideration is what additional technical infrastructure could be needed. Federal policies including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) would also be taken into account.

Three other NGA participants, Colorado, Vermont and Washington, are also tackling legal and privacy governance issues, Schoop said, indicating that similar efforts may be able to be maximized “where they have parts of this that are very mature. And how can we either replicate, leverage it or learn from it.”

“We’re already kind of talking through that and trying to lay out some ideas. We don’t have specific policies, per se. However, because a couple of the other states, as part of this NGA cohort, are having the same thing, part of the planning session in October helps us to get to that," Schoop said.

Creating more overarching strategies could help the state realize a cost savings, Schoop said, noting that the state has spent money assessing and reassessing its data needs and the lack of a framework — which could be eliminated by the presence of a larger strategy. And in the long run, she said, being able to more effectively analyze health and other information streams could help achieve lasting positive change by providing “evidence-based data that can inform a policy change.”

“The use of data for the policy, evaluating the outcomes of the policies, is just kind of this continued evolution. We’re not landing on one policy or a fixed policy for a long time. It’s kind of evolving as the data is evolving,” Horvath said.

“We’re in a transformational stage when it comes to government, government services and how we service our citizens. And the data is a very important aspect of that,” Schoop added.

Theo Douglas is assistant managing editor for Industry Insider — California, and before that was a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.