Thursday, 8 November 2012

What's In a Name?

Librarians' stock in trade is the naming and classification of things.  Perhaps that is why something I read today made me sit up and take notice.

I spotted a tweet today by Alison North, linking to an article in Healthcare Today which is reporting on a suggestion by Dame Fiona Caldicott that the term "Information Governance" should be replaced by "Clinical Governance" in an effort to "encourage a cultural shift in the NHS towards more information sharing"

While I am all in favour of this aim, I cannot see how this suggested change in terms is likely to help meet that goal.  

Firstly, I think such a change in terminology is likely to lead to increased confusion over meaning. As things stand, the term 'information governance' is widely understood (in the Records Management and Information Security professions anyway, if not by clinical practitioners in the NHS).  Why take a well known term for an activity and change it?  (for example,  Gartner Inc., an information technology research and advisory firm, defines information governance as 'the specification of decision rights and an accountability framework to encourage desirable behavior in the valuation, creation, storage, use, archival and deletion of information.').

It is especially puzzling to me to suggest changing it to something that could be easily confused with a different activity altogether.  'Clinical governance' has connotations of how clinical procedures and decisions are made - nothing to do with the management of information.  It seems that the issue (if one exists) is whether there is effective promotion of this concept within the NHS and training of staff in its meaning and in how to accomplish it.  

Secondly, I'm not at all sure of any causal linkage between having sound information governance (whatever it's called) and encouraging the sharing of information.  In order to safely and effectively share (often sensitive) information within the NHS, good information governance in a prerequisite.  However, of itself, having good information governance neither encourages or discourages the sharing of information.

This example goes to show the key importance of what's in a name.  Giving something a label means attaching to it all sorts of assumptions and implications - which may or may not be those that the person making the original suggestion contemplated. This is especially important where you are trying to promote something or advocate for something.  It might be obvious to the speaker or writer what they had in mind - but the audience might get a completely different picture.