Worlds of rhetoric and reality in information sharing

rob wilson

Rob Wilson 
Professor of Information Systems Management
Newcastle University

Spending a day recently at a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) conference where I had been invited to speak I was reminded that information sharing really is a place where there are worlds of rhetoric and reality. What do I mean by this?

Rhetoric is important in society as it is the stuff that persuades us to think about our world in the ways we do. In this context what is acceptable and unacceptable about information sharing. Rhetoric isn’t just rhetoric of course and it affects what happens in the real world. The Data Protection act is a great example of a piece of legislation in which the language of the act rhetorically brought the idea of ‘protection’ to the fore in discussions about sharing information with all of the challenges that entails. The Digital Economy act is another example.

Much of the conference was aimed at promoting action to improve information sharing – the great work of the Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing, innovative technologies to support information sharing; case studies of training and education for practitioners from local areas. These are all examples of different ‘realities’ from helping people learn and improving the culture, giving organisations better tools for doing their job and helping practitioners and managers understand the importance of information sharing. The attendees at the conference were from all of these real worlds and others – there was for instance a significant Chinese Government delegation. It would have been great to hear from them about what all of this sounded like in their world.

My own presentation was a reflection of my reality as an academic with an interest in the field and of being involved with different people addressing the problems as they were fifteen years ago and worse perhaps talking about the problem in the same way.  Could it be that the way we are talking about the problem is part of the problem?

My own bit of rhetoric then is we need to take a step back and think more strategically about information.

Stop talking about data and information as the same thing (they are not!) – data rarely travels very far meaningfully whereas information can travel, but we need information about the information to make sense of it.

Start talking about what infrastructure – social and technical – we need to share in order to facilitate the governable, resilient and scalable information sharing we need.

The reality if we don’t do this is that l’ll be deploying this rhetoric again in ten years’ time at another CPD conference.

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