Background Progress in the use of secondary data to inform public health practice and healthy public policy has been inconsistent and slow, despite its promise for understanding the social, political, environmental, and economic determinants of health. This is especially pertinent in the context of whole-systems approaches to public health, yet little is known about the perspectives of decision-makers across the public health system on secondary data sharing and linkage.
Methods We undertook three sequential stakeholder workshops with participants from local and central government, NHS public health teams, Health & Social Care Partnerships, the third sector, organisations with a remit for supporting data-intensive research, and public representatives. The workshops were informed by a scoping review on use of evidence – and particularly secondary data – in public health policy and practice, searching Medline, Scopus, SSCI, and key institutional websites, and by three case studies of existing cross-sectoral linkage projects. Findings were synthesised using thematic analysis. We focused on the use of public and third sector data by organisations in those sectors, given additional complexities associated with the use of data by, or from, commercial entities.
Results The scoping review (61 included studies) highlighted that evidence serves diverse purposes in public health policy and practice and may be understood in different ways. It identified a range of barriers and facilitators to the use of evidence derived from secondary data in decision-making, which were used to guide workshop discussion around the case studies and the shaping of recommendations. From the workshop discussions with 19 participants, we identified a set of six guiding principles for cross-sectoral data sharing and linkage, and a series of specific practical actions. The guiding principles proposed that cross-sectoral data sharing and linkage should be pragmatic; participatory; ambitious; fair; iterative; with holistic and proportionate governance. The practical actions included a strategic approach to identifying and sharing key datasets; streamlining governance processes (e.g., through standardised data sharing agreements; central data repositories; and a focus on re-usable data resources) and building workforce capacity. To make these possible, participants identified a need for strong political and organisational leadership as well as a transparent and inclusive public conversation.
Conclusion Stakeholders from healthy public policy and practice support greater use of cross-sectoral data sharing and linkage to inform decision-making. Our findings provide a practical set of actions that together can be used to address current barriers and constraints, and realise this potential.
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