Data-Sharing Standards, Agreements and Examples

Published: December 22, 2012

NOTE: This toolkit was published by Building Changes in 2013 to help counties meet a 2014 state mandate that all counties have a coordinated entry system for clients entering the homeless system. It has not been updated since then and does not necessarily reflect current or best practice.


The benefits of a common and shared database are many. From a client-level perspective, it can produce a more seamless process of matching individuals and families with the right resources, particularly those who fit into two or more homeless populations. With a shared database, the resources that best meet unique needs can be identified without a lot of phone calls, and appropriate provider referrals can be easily made.

For providers, not only is a shared database easier and more efficient, it can make possible a comprehensive analysis of a county’s entire homeless system. As more comprehensive systems change takes place, the system can be evaluated on several shared outcomes, including:

  • Prevention and diversion efforts
  • Reductions in length of stay in homelessness
  • Number of clients in services
  • Reductions in return to homelessness
  • Increases in employment and education
  • Health and well-being outcomes while receiving services/housing
  • Long-term housing stability

The influence of this information is what will solidify participation, collaboration, and a sense of ownership and trust in coordinated entry and other systems change. Shared data will illustrate to every provider how the systems are working, where improvements are needed, how agencies in the network are performing, and whether households are becoming stable.

Data can hold partner agencies accountable for supporting and following the systems’ policies and procedures, more than an MOU or contracted scope of services. Sharing data offers an opportunity for providers to build collaborations. As supportive relationships emerge, the sense of “we’re all in this together” can be motivating and invigorating for front-line service professionals who engage daily in demanding and stressful work.

Some questions should be answered before sharing database information between providers:

  • What extent of the intake and comprehensive assessment data will be shared?
  • What types of permissions need to be in place from providers and clients?
  • Will evaluation results of the system process be part of the shared database?
  • Will client outcomes and quality-of-service surveys be shared?

Data-Sharing Considerations

These questions bring up the following considerations:

  • Checking with local and state privacy laws is essential to having a shared database. In Washington state, privacy laws initially prevented data-sharing without written consent. An amendment to the law was put in place that allowed verbal (phone) or virtual consent.
  • Clearly state the difference in protections for identifying information and non-identifying information and incorporate this into policies, procedures, and agency partner agreements.
  • Clients’ protections and partner-agency ethics’ policies—A state HMIS should have a set of agreements and standards for protections that allow use of the HMIS. Lead-agency implementers of coordinated entry should have partner agreements that set policies and procedures regarding client confidentiality.

Washington State HMIS Standards

  • Agency Partner Agreement—Each agency must sign this agreement and submit it to the Department of Commerce prior to participating in Washington state HMIS.
  • User Code of Ethics, Policy, and Responsibility Statements—This form must be completed and signed by a partner agency prior to using HMIS.
  • Client Notice of Uses & Disclosures—a notice agencies can post on the wall in a common client-use area in an agency that informs clients on how their information is used in HMIS
  • Client Informed Consent—Each client must sign this form to consent to, or deny, the collection of his or her personally identifying information; form should be available in other languages as needed.
  • Client Revocation of HMIS Consent—If a client decides to revoke consent, they must sign this form.

See Washington State HMIS forms here.

Whatcom County, Washington Partner Agency Standards

Whatcom County had its partner agencies sign a client-information protection policy that defined how client data can be shared and how they communicate the data-sharing policy to clients.

Whatcom Housing Group Client Protection Policy:

  • The Whatcom Housing Group partner agencies sign an agreement that dictates how client identifying and non-identifying information is managed.
  • Informed consent must be given by clients in order for their identifying information to be entered into HMIS and shared among agencies. Non-identifying client information may be entered in the system for all clients regardless of whether they give their informed consent and regardless of their domestic violence status.
  • Only non-identifying information will be entered for clients currently fleeing or in danger from a domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking situation.
  • Identifying-client information will only be shared among agencies that have signed on to this client protection policy.
  • At the time of informed consent, and at any point after, the client has the right to see a current list of the Whatcom Housing Group participating agencies.
  • Additional agencies may join the Whatcom Housing Group with notification and consent of current data sharing agencies.
  • As part of the informed consent process, clients must be informed that additional agencies may join the Whatcom Housing Group at any time and will have access to their information.
  • HMIS users will maintain Whatcom HMIS data in such a way as to protect against revealing the identity of clients to unauthorized agencies, individuals, or entities.
  • Clients may not be denied services based on their choice to withhold their consent.
  • Each party to this memorandum of agreement shall defend, indemnify, and hold all other parties harmless from any and all claims arising out of that party’s negligent performance of this agreement. Any loss or liability to third parties resulting from negligent acts, errors, or omissions of a Whatcom Housing Group HMIS user while acting within the scope of their authority under this Agreement shall be borne by that user exclusively.

See Whatcom County MOA for data sharing here.

Next: Data Collection Challenges and Tips

Get the latest news from Building Changes.