Information Sharing

The importance of understanding the complexities of information sharing cannot be overstated. For decades some of the high profile cases in the UK of (for example) child abuse have revealed fundamental problems around sharing of information between public sector agencies. One of these was the case of tragic abuse and death of Victoria Climbie. In the subsequent enquiry by Lord Laming he noted

“Improvements to the way information is exchanged within and between agencies are imperative if children are to be adequately safeguarded. Staff must be held accountable for the quality of the information they provide. Information systems that depend on the random passing of slips of paper have no place in modern services. Each agency must accept responsibility for making sure that information passed to another agency is clear, and the recipients should query any points of uncertainty. However, I was told that the free exchange of information about children and families about whom there are concerns is inhibited by the legislation on data protection and human rights. It appears that, unless a child is deemed to be in need of protection, information cannot be shared between agencies without staff running the risk of contravening this legislation. This has two consequences: either it deters information sharing, or it artificially increases concerns in order that they can be expressed as the need for protection.”

In 2014 the UK Home Office published a report into the issues around multi-agency information sharing. Indirectly this led to the funding of a Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing which has been very successful in identifying and promoting good information sharing practices in the public sector. Many of the resources they have published have a much wider relevance than the public sector.

The other area in which a substantial amount of research has been carried out is in the management of information flows within a supply chain, a topic which has not been addressed in any depth in the discussions around digital workplaces. A search through Google Scholar will list out literally thousands of case study projects that have been undertaken around the world over the last two decades. Information sharing within the organisation is also an area of research interest, such as a 2015 paper entitled ‘Cooperation Versus Competition Effects on Information Sharing and Use in Group Decision-Making’. It is easy to make assumptions about information sharing. It might be assumed that scientists would be very likely to share information but two papers by Carolin Haeussler and her colleagues, one in 2011 and 2014 indicates well the complexity of sharing within and between organisations. Another paper that would be worth investing in is entitled ‘System Dynamics Understanding in Projects: Information Sharing, Psychological Safety, and Performance Effects’. This is because the paper includes a survey format for the assessment of information sharing in projects.

In the scope of the Information Plus format it is not possible to begin to summarise the research sources and research papers, most of which are in subscription journals.  My overall view is that any preconceptions about information sharing are probably either partially or totally incorrect, largely because of the multiple factors that come into play. At a core level the resources from the Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing are a very good starting point. I would also highlight that this topic is not about ‘collaboration’, in that the outcomes of the research that has been conducted relate to the processes of information sharing and not the output of the work of a team.

See also Information Behaviour, Information Culture, Information Lifecycle, Information Policies, Information Seeking

Martin White

October 2016

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