Privacy vs. Efficiency: The future of Community Services?

By Jane Doe

In March, the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) revealed its intention to collect client-level data from Non-Government Organizations (NGO’s) in exchange for funding . These changes align with MSD’s community investment strategy and will include the collection of client names, ethnicity and other personal details. This is considered necessary to understand who is using services in the community and develop better strategies for funding to areas where it is needed (Ryan, 2017). While the utilization of client-level data to improve community services is an appealing prospect, requiring clients to forfeit their right to privacy in exchange for support creates a dangerous precedence for social work into the future

Many NGO’s have spent a considerable amount of time encouraging people to seek support and develop trust within the community. These changes have the potential to undermine this effort as clients who are experiencing a range of issues may choose to refuse services and remain unsupported in the community, ensuring their privacy is protected. Furthermore, the sharing of identifiable information to government agencies may discourage statutory clients from seeking support (Davis, 2017). In my experience, these clients do not trust government agencies and are unwilling to seek support if they believe that information on the services they have accessed will be shared. Alternatively, clients may provide false identities, leading to the collection of data that is inaccurate and unusable for analysis. Therefore, the intention to create better strategies for funding may have the opposite effect as the use of inaccurate data for funding decisions will only lead to the development of less effective and targeted interventions.

The Privacy Commissioner’s findings report that inadequate explanation had been given regarding the purpose of data being collected and who will be liable for breaches of privacy (Edwards, 2017; Ryan, 2017). Making decisions on the collection of identifiable information without full consideration of these questions and consultation with NGO’s is likely to produce unintended consequences to clients and communities. Effort must be made to ensure that data collection retains the trust of the community and upholds social work values by recognizing that privacy is the most ethical way to practice in certain situations, particularly crisis-management.

Overall, the demand for private data is appealing, but will likely produce more risks than benefits to clients unless significant consultation is made with stakeholders. A community investment approach would be better served by ensuring clients are receiving the support they need within the community when they need it, rather than undermining their trust in community services and deterring them from seeking support. The major conflict seems to be whether privacy or efficiency is the best way to manage social services. Overriding an individual’s right to keep their information private for the purposes of efficiency should not be the platform on which we build the future of social work services.


Edwards, J. (2017). Inquiry Into the Ministry of Social Developments Collection of Individual Client-Level Data from NGO’s.

Ryan, K. (2017, March 3). Ministry responds to privacy concerns. On RNZ. Retrieved from

Davis, S. (2017, March 2). Government demands non-profit clients’ personal data before releasing funds. Stuff. Retrieved from


About socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand
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