Benefits of information sharing outweigh vulnerabilities

Reports suggest five ways to to make change happen

Nowhere is getting the right information at the right time more critical than in the area of national security — defense, intelligence, diplomacy and so on. And people working in the government know all too well the consequences of not having such information available in a timely manner. So it is perhaps unsurprising that researchers are now publishing reports about the new field of information sharing and national security at a rapid clip.

Shortly after my paper with Linton Wells II titled “Social Software and National Security: An Initial Net Assessment” was published by the National Defense University, James Jay Carafano’s “Social Networking and National Security: How to Harness Web 2.0 to Protect the Country” was published by the Heritage Foundation. Both papers generally agree that although there are completely reasonable concerns about network security and information assurance, the costs of not sharing information can outweigh the cost of sharing it.

Now, the Markle Foundation’s Task Force on National Security in the Information Age has written “Nation At Risk: Policy-Makers Need Better Information to Protect the Country,” which reaffirms ideas in the NDU and Heritage reports. Interestingly, the Markle report focuses on five simple recommendations that center on leadership to change bureaucracy, enforce already existing rules, and seize the moment to make change happen. Along with my brief commentary, they are:

1. Reaffirm information sharing as a top priority. Sharing information with people who need it is, in principle, what the government practices. But a variety of cultural, organizational and individual barriers stand in the way in many cases. Strong top-down leadership is necessary to crack this problem and create an environment of “need to share” or “responsibility to provide” rather than “need to know.”

2. Make government information discoverable and accessible to authorized users by increasing the use of commercial technology. It’s impossible to predict what bits of information will be useful to specific people at specific times. Private-sector Web 2.0 technology can be used or adapted for information discovery in the government.

3. Enhance security and privacy protections to match the increased power of shared information. Information sharing has a downside: the information is being shared. Important steps with regard to ensuring information security and protecting personal privacy or sensitive information are imperative and must be balanced against a need to share.

4. Transform the information-sharing culture with metrics and incentives. It’s difficult to measure the value of editing one sentence of a wiki or sharing a link on Yammer. Individuals should be accountable for their sharing, the behavior should be transparent, and metrics for individual contributions should be created to measure modern performance.

5. Empower users to drive information sharing by forming communities of interest. Important topics cannot always be dictated by a memo from the top down. Users should have permission to create communities of interested individuals who follow relevant topics, and they should have technologies such as social networks that enable and extend this.

Information technology underlies information sharing. But hardware and software are not the central problem, nor even the primary solution — people are. Changes in workplace culture will empower people to use tools that already exist to do their jobs — and ultimately to serve the country — better.


About the Author

Mark Drapeau is director of public-sector social engagement at Microsoft. 

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