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The Data Dissemination Spectrum: Best Practices in Open Data and Other Data Sharing Strategies in Health Data

Data dissemination consists of the distribution or transmission of statistical or other data to an end user. Governments, agencies and other organizations have used data dissemination and related communication activities to extend the utility of their data to a much wider audience to maximize the value and use of data holdings, encourage inquiry and debate within society, increase transparency and accountability, and provide valuable information to spur innovation. Successful data dissemination strategies do not simply release data; they are designed to transmit information to defined user groups. Therefore, one strategy does not necessarily fit all audiences.

This environmental scan explores the application and considerations of open data, data exploration tools, data services, data sharing agreements and secure data access programs as each relates to health data. Each data dissemination strategy is defined by a number of key principles, which in turn impact the ease and effectiveness by which a target audience can access and use information. The different approaches to data dissemination as reviewed in this report are not new and have been used by many different organizations across multiple jurisdictions. What is relatively new is the increasingly large shift toward a more open approach to sharing data. While the public sector, including government, has been one of the earliest adopters of open data strategies, many private sector organizations have also begun to benefit from this approach to data dissemination.

Data dissemination strategies exist on a spectrum from closed to shared to open. Factors that position a strategy within this spectrum are primarily centred around access, availability and associated supports; the strategy is impacted by the nature of the underlying data and the purpose for which it is being shared. However, the data spectrum is not linear, as access to and use of data can be restricted to varying levels within each category. While open data is freely available, shared data may be restricted to specific or ranges of groups that meet defined criteria or have specific licences. Closed data is characterized by restrictions (i.e., technical, legal, institutional) that limit distribution to a select group of data users.

While many data dissemination strategies exist, each is associated with its own strengths, weaknesses, and ability to meet institutional and user requirements. This report provides a detailed introduction and overview of five data dissemination strategies, their application and associated considerations.

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