Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Information Exchange: Learning and Sharing in Workers' Comp

It has been an interesting couple of weeks for me. We had an expert in workers’ compensation from Michigan visit our offices, a telephone meeting with vocational rehabilitation experts in South Australia, an internal request for a contact in Sweden, and a data request for a project involving workers’ compensation in Victoria Australia, New Zealand and British Columbia. Then we had a visiting delegation from Russia. Last week I was on a panel with German representatives from the International Social Security Agency (ISSA) speaking to an audience of Canadians, Germans, Australians, Canadians, Americans and a representative from Taiwan.

No one jurisdiction has a monopoly on good ideas. When looking for alternative policies or programs, seeing how other agencies have attacked similar issues can both inform your decision-making and act as an early warning system for problems that might be encountered.

The act of collecting data and policy alternatives from others, however, imposes certain obligations on the requester. First, a basic understanding of the context of each country’s workers’ compensation environment is essential. Who is covered, what is covered, how does the OH&S role / prevention mandate integrate with the workers’ compensation mandate, how are disputes handled—all are questions that need to be asked and the answers understood before the data can be properly assessed and interpreted.

The other obligation is reciprocity. If I ask you about your system, your results or how you approach a particular policy, it stands to reason that you may want to ask similar questions about my system, results or policy. Often, answering such questions will take time and resources when you can least afford them. It is important to realize that the same will be true when the tables are reversed.

I am constantly blown away by the cooperation and generosity of others in helping me understand their systems. Wherever possible, I try and reciprocate. Rarely do I find that my requests for information are ignored or dealt with in a perfunctory way.

My point in this blog is simply this: we live in an information age where data is plentiful but meaningless without context. That context can only be gained by asking questions, learning from others and sharing insights and knowledge. And it’s a two way street.

So, to all of you who end up answering my requests for information, thank you!

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