Making staff the key tool in information management and not computers is the most effective way to avoid data breaches, say Loughborough University researchers.
In a unique partnership with Leicestershire County Council (LCC), academics from the University have been examining how staff training and changes to organisational culture can significantly improve information management.

Experts from Loughborough’s Department of Information Science, led by Dr Mark Hepworth and Dr Tom Jackson, spent several weeks at the Council, observing staff, conducting interviews and running workshops. They were then able to identify the key areas where staff needed further training: sharing; security; storage; retention and disposal; search and retrieval.

For many staff this was the first time they had had the opportunity to discuss and think about how they used and managed their information. The work brought information management to the foreground of their thinking.

The project found that people fall into different character types, which were mapped as characters, such as Miss Retention, Mr Sharer, etc. For example, some people hoard information on their computers, while others save it in shared drives with, if necessary, password protection.

Understanding these different styles of storing and using information enabled the Council and University to develop a range of interventions. A series of ‘talking heads’ case studies were filmed, an e-learning package for teaching information security developed and workshops created to guide staff and managers.
Claire Everitt, the Council’s Senior Information Management Officer, said: “Council staff use information all the time, but some people make better decisions than others, in terms of how they store or share it.

“We are not complacent – we’ve seen the national headlines about data breaches at other councils and Government bodies and the risks that they pose. Our knowledge transfer project with Loughborough University has given us an honest insight into the different ways in which information is handled across the council and with our partners.

“It has helped staff challenge their perception of information, why it is important and its value for delivering services. This will enable us to devise clear, consistent standards that all our staff can adopt.”

Loughborough’s Dr Mark Hepworth said: “In many organisations, the emphasis is on technological solutions and the role it can play in managing and providing access to information, rather than the organisational culture and individual capabilities. More emphasis should be placed on people, giving them the opportunity to think about how they handle information and the impact of this on their work.”

“Unless organisations take a proactive step to enable staff to make a radical shift in thinking and to take a systematic approach to managing their information, little will change. The work carried out with Leicestershire County Council provides an invaluable foundation for staff development in government agencies throughout the UK.”