Why a Guideline on Access to Information?
People who use social services may not understand what rights they have to see the personal information that has been collected about them or is about them, to ask for that information to be corrected, or to express a preference as to how they'd like to access their information.
Understanding these rights is important. If people are unsure about what is recorded about them, or whether it is accurate or up-to-date, that can affect their trust or confidence in how it's used. That uncertainty may deter them from providing the information in the first place, or from opting to receive a service they need. Conversely, the more proactive an agency is and the easier it makes the process, the more empowered service users will be. Their confidence that correct information will be used for the purpose for which it was collected will also be greater.
This Guideline recognises a range of factors.
- For many people, their information is an important part of their story and who they are. Because of this, they want to feel confident that their information is respected and treated with care. This includes enabling them to understand what information is held about them and why, and that such information is relevant and appropriate for the purpose for which it was collected.
- Even where people broadly understand their rights, they may not understand how to exercise them or there may be a lack of practical opportunity to exercise them.
- When people are in a crisis or vulnerable situation, they may not initially be concerned about how they can access and request correction of their information. However, it is usually still important at the appropriate time to proactively ensure that they understand and are able to exercise their rights to access and request corrections to their personal information.
- The difficulty individuals face in accessing their information can result in their having to repeatedly re-live experiences they would rather not. Sometimes re-telling their story can be harmful for them. If they can obtain a copy of their story as already relayed to one agency, and provide that to another, it can save them from having to re-live aspects of a traumatic experience.
- People sometimes assume that government agencies can share, access and exchange information about them without constraint. Enabling people to more readily understand what is actually known about them, and by which agencies, can reduce the sense of disempowerment that this assumption causes.
Intent of this Guideline
This guideline recommends a proactive and pragmatic approach to ensuring that people understand and can exercise the options they have to access their information, request corrections to it, or in some cases change it themselves. This helps to address trust and confidence problems that can arise when people feel that they have no practical or easy way to understand or control what’s happening with their information.
It is recommended that agencies implement the practices described in this Guideline proactively and regularly, with a view to promoting the rights people have and enabling people to understand and exercise those rights at a time that works for them.
The key concept in this Guideline
Taking regular, proactive and practical steps to engage with people about what information is held about them, and to enable them to access it and ensure its accuracy, helps to build trust and confidence by:
- reducing people’s concerns and frustrations; and
- supporting them with a sense of empowerment.
It can also help to ensure that agencies act on accurate information and that the services people receive are the most appropriate ones for their situation.
When to use the Access to Information Guideline
When defining processes that ensure people's information can be easily accessed.
This Guideline is for people involved in:
- collecting, storing or recording personal information collected from or about service users
- identifying or designing methods and practices to ensure that information is readily available if and when service users ask about it
- managing or designing services that service users regularly use, including a range of channels such as digital and face-to-face channels, during which they may voice an interest in their information.
The practices described in this Guideline may sometimes be carried out by people outside of the areas of responsibility identified above. In these situations, the responsibility to enable and apply those practices may sit with people in a range of different roles, who will need to know about and understand this Guideline.
Access to Information's relationship with the other Guidelines
Elements of this Guideline inform the three other Policy Guidelines.
Explains why it’s important to be clear about the purpose for which information is collected, and how to do that. Understanding this Guideline is relevant because service users can only ensure that information is accurate and relevant to the purpose of collection, if they are given a reasonable understanding of what information is held about them, and why it is held.
Describes what a service user should be enabled to understand, and what rights and choices they should be informed about at the point that information is collected from them, including the rights discussed here in this Guideline.
Describes the importance of collaborating with people who have a rich knowledge of the information and the people it represents, so the best outcomes can be achieved. Understanding this Guideline is relevant because it sets an expectation that when information is collected to improve outcomes for service users, they can be given examples of where and how this has occurred, when they express any interest in what is happening with their information.
Using the Policy Principles with the Access to Information Guideline
Because this Guideline flows directly from the Policy Principles, it's useful to read it with those Principles in mind. These can help to identify natural considerations for enabling people to access their information.
Initial considerations include:
How can service users understand the link between the information stored about them, and the ways in which it is intended to be used?
How can people's mana be acknowledged and upheld by how they are engaged in relation to what information is recorded about them, how it is recorded, and how they can access it?
How can people be empowered by ensuring that their needs and wishes about accessing their information are understood, captured and addressed?
How can kaitiaki or stewards of the information contribute to service users' understanding of how information about them is held, and enable easy access to their information?
How can agencies work together to practically enable service users' rights of access and be responsive to their requests for access and correction?