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Transparency and Choice: Match the approach to the context

Consider how to provide good, safe opportunities for service users to understand and ask questions about the collection and use of their personal information. Think broadly about how you approach this.

Consider a range of methods

It can be helpful to consider a variety of ways you could explain the collection and use of their personal information to your service users. These might include:

  • one-to-one conversations
  • brochures, factsheets or FAQs to take away
  • posters in offices
  • website information at different levels of detail
  • information on forms they are asked to sign, and copies they can take away
  • presentations to groups of people.

The most effective approach will often be to talk people through the collection and use of their personal information in person so they can ask questions.

While a range of different approaches can work, it's important to check with people from time to time to confirm their understanding of what's been discussed.

It's also important to respect and respond to cultural and language considerations.

Provide multiple opportunities for people

Service users will sometimes be stressed or in crisis when they initially look for support. They may not yet be interested, willing or ready to think about what may happen with their personal information. For that reason, it may be necessary to offer a number of opportunities to re-visit the topic, and to respond appropriately to their level of interest in understanding.

Service users in this kind of situation could include victims of crime, or children or young people whose authority or willingness to make decisions about themselves changes as they become older.

Example of providing users multiple opportunities to think about sharing their personal information

In some situations, agencies might:

  • inform service users face to face of key matters relating to the collection and use of their personal information,
  • give service users a 1-page information sheet to take away
  • tell service users they can check the agency’s privacy statement on its website for further information about how their information is handled and who to contact if they have any questions.

Be specific and give clear explanations

The Data and Protection and Use Policy (DPUP) focuses on the importance of understanding.

When explaining about the collection and use of personal information, be as specific and clear as possible so people have the best chance of understanding what information is being collected, how their information will be used and who will be able to see it.

Note that both general and detailed information can be given in, for example, layered privacy statements. This approach can help people match their understanding to their interest.

Table 1: Examples of insufficient and better explanations

Insufficient explanation Better explanation

“We will share information with relevant agencies.”

“We will share your information with agencies X, Y and Z for these reasons…”

“Information is used for service improvement.”

“Your information might be used without your name, address or anything else that identifies you to help us apply for more funding.”

“Information will be used for research purposes.”

“This information about you will be linked with other information about you that we hold to help us research [XYZ], but anything that identifies you will be removed before anyone uses it for research.”

“We will share your information with people who need to see it.”

“People directly involved in providing services to you and our internal researchers will be able to use your information, but other people, for example, contract managers, will not be able to see it.”

Things to consider

For information collection, consider:

  • Will service users be surprised by anything if they come to understand or hear about it later?
  • What are your service users’ communication needs? What timing, language, format, visuals, flowcharts, pictures or other things could be helpful?
  • Is this a one-off encounter or a long-term engagement when there may be further opportunities to discuss the information being collected and what may happen with it?
  • What kind of information is being collected, what will it be used for and how might that impact what service users need to understand either now or over time?
  • Does it make sense to provide detailed information or can more general explanations be used, given the variety of purposes and information collected?
    Think carefully about the balance, as generalisations can raise further questions and risk being inappropriate. Assumptions about how service users perceive the sensitivity of their information may not be accurate.
  • If another agency is collecting information on your behalf, what support does it need? The collecting agency should be given the information it needs and feel able to freely ask all the questions that service users may ask it.
  • Who can help to develop or test forms, explanations and other communication material?

If service users have questions or complaints, do you provide information about:

  • who people should contact if they have questions? Do they know how to do that?
  • their right to complain and how they can do that? For example, do you provide details of who they can contact, by email or phone? Do you provide an online contact form? Do you invite them to come and talk with you if they wish?

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