For more than a decade, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has been undertaking data development and assisting other organisations with related activities. In doing so, the AIHW has developed a body of expertise in data development. Much of this experience has been incorporated into this guide.

While data development activities are undertaken by many organisations, detailed information about the process of data development is not readily available. Data development requires a considerable investment of time, staff and other resources, and includes the development of data standards to support consistent data collection. The guide outlines the basics of data development and the steps to follow when developing data.

The use of electronic health records is increasing throughout the health care system and the feasibility of electronic continuous client records is being considered by the community care sector. The advent of electronic data capture and communication systems provides a unique opportunity to improve the quality and coverage of information in Australia and the potential to re-use and share data becomes even more relevant. In line with the ‘create once, use often’ objective of information management, it is important to look for opportunities to improve the information available for national reporting and analysis when undertaking electronic data collection initiatives. Otherwise, significant additional costs may be incurred as a result of the need to create parallel systems whose products may not necessarily be compatible, resulting in inefficiencies and risks to data quality. It is therefore important that data development be undertaken using principles that ensure data collected at the point of service delivery can be aggregated and used for secondary purposes.

The guide outlines sound data development practices that incorporate the necessary steps to produce high-quality, consistent data that meets the needs of all users of the data, and attracts the necessary level of agreement on content and authority behind the data specifications. The document promotes the role of metadata in describing data and the use of data standards to improve consistency in data recording where data consistency and comparability is required. The document takes the reader from the basics of data development to the methodology behind good data development and the specification of data elements to describe and standardise data.

The principles and processes outlined are applicable to all subject areas where data are required, including community services, health (including clinical data collections) and housing assistance. The processes outlined are relevant for local data collections as well as state/territory or national data collections. The document provides information about governance processes for national data collections.