Building a civil society coalition to design a policy agenda on administrative data-sharing

In February 2017, Powered by Data hosted Transform the Sector, Canada’s first national conference on the digital data needs of the social sector. We identified increasing access to administrative data for the nonprofit sector as a key need - and an area with potential for a transformative collective intervention. In the Canadian context, there has been no coordinated policy agenda for increasing social impact through administrative data use. We are convening a diverse civil society coalition to design a policy agenda around administrative data-sharing for social impact.

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What is administrative data? 

As a part of running their programs, government agencies and social services collect information about the people they serve. Examples of this administrative data could include: physician visit records, high school completion records, and tax returns. Sharing and linking administrative data can provide rich information about communities and the services they use—creating opportunities for impact evaluation, integrated service delivery, social research, and evidence-based advocacy. Although administrative data-sharing is already happening in the UK, US, and to a limited extent in Canada, bringing this practice to scale in the Canadian context is blocked by a number of policy barriers.

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Our policy research and coalition-building process

The applications of administrative data vary widely, and each presents a different set of opportunities and risks. In exploring the possibility of increased admin data sharing, we need to understand what different use cases could look like, address important questions around privacy, security, autonomy and consent, and draw on best practices for mitigating these risks. This will be done through policy research, and in collaboration with a multi-stakeholder civil society coalition of advocacy groups, nonprofit service providers, and funders.  Our research will also include a specific focus on Indigenous data governance.

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An inclusive policy development approach

Planning and decision-making around digital policy often excludes communities at the margins, who carry the greatest privacy and security risks posed by such projects. An equitable policy agenda for increased administrative data use must be informed not only by comprehensive research, but also by an ongoing, collaborative process involving a diverse civil society coalition. Powered by Data will work in partnership with four co-convening partners to design this coalition: Philanthropic Foundations Canada, the Ontario Nonprofit Network, Colour of Poverty - Colour of Change, and Dr Janet Smylie of Well Living House.  These core partners are helping us to engage equitably and effectively with our 50+ coalition members, and to centre principles of Indigenous data governance in our work.

What’s next?

Throughout 2018, we are working to deepen our research base on the potential applications, risks and mitigation strategies, and policy requirements for increased administrative data sharing in Canada.  We are also working with our coalition members to develop a shared governance framework, in order to allow us to articulate a shared policy agenda in 2019.

If you would like more information about this coalition-building process and research, sign up for our newsletter to receive updates as they become available!  If you would like to get involved with this work, send us a message at

Our co-convening partners

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Powered by Data is grateful to the Ontario Trillium Foundation for their ongoing support and partnership in developing this initiative.