Collaboration and Information Sharing: Two Critical Capabilities for Government

Theresa Pardo
May 5, 2007

Information is one of the most valuable resources of government.

Government managers, however, are finding that information needed to plan, make decisions, and act is often held outside their organizations. That information is collected for widely different purposes and maintained in disparate formats.

Information on a computerAs a consequence, governments around the world are turning to information sharing as a strategy for maximizing the value of information in providing services and responding to problems.

New practices are emerging at all levels. Some town governments have created performance-based management capability by sharing information between departments such as police and highway. There are state-level efforts to coordinate public safety practices. Finally, there are national efforts responding to public health crises.

Information sharing allows government managers to work at the same time, with the same information integrated from multiple disparate sources.

Information has the potential to support the transformation of organizational structures and communication channels among multiple agencies working in different locations. These integration processes often involve new work processes and significant organizational change. Those are also embedded in larger political and institutional environments that shape goals and choices.

Examinations of the events such as the World Trade Center attack and Hurricane Katrina provide compelling arguments for creating the capability for sustainable information sharing programs. Both events highlight the value and difficulty of sharing knowledge among individuals, professions, organizations, and governments in times of crisis.

These events underscore the need for robust and resilient government response capabilities. They both provide a mandate for significant changes to ensure that information sharing is not only possible, but useful.

Public health and safety professionals appreciate the need for this capability both in times of crisis and under normal circumstances.

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) is a leader in encouraging and supporting collaboration and information sharing with criminal justice information integration between federal, state, and local justice agencies. Information sharing, according to Domingo Herraiz, director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance in the DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs, is the “cross-cutting prevention piece” that will allow communities to reduce crime and fight terrorism.

Trust and Cross-boundary Information Sharing

Trust building is an important social process for developing information sharing among organizations and individuals.

The level of trust among participating organizations is relevant to information sharing efforts because it can alleviate conflicts and ease collaboration in the form of risk-taking, knowledge sharing, and decision making. A high level of trust can contribute to full participation in the project and knowledge sharing about complex business practices.

The combination of the interaction of leadership, organizational culture, and structures to support knowledge sharing can, over time, help trust development. 

Knowledge and Information-sharing Networks 

Knowledge and information-sharing networks are emerging in government programs and policy arenas.

These inter-organizational and intergovernmental networks facilitate cross-program and cross-functional coordination while they also support communities of practice.

These networks often include shared repositories of detailed program or administrative information, are accessible to all participants, and can address needs like program evaluation, reference services, or technical assistance. 

CTG UAlbany research shows that formal authority, perceived authority, and a variety of leadership behaviors appear to have an important influence on the development and performance of public sector knowledge networks.

These factors also affect the ability of a network to achieve goals and how satisfying and useful the networking relationships among the participating organizations and individuals turn out.

The West Nile Virus (WNV) outbreak in the United States in 2002, showed how gathering, handling, and sharing information in response to a public health crisis, requires technical capabilities across organizational boundaries and levels of government, along with a reliance on strong inter-organizational collaboration skills.

The WNV response required collaboration and information sharing among animal and human public health professionals and healthcare facilities in state, local, and federal jurisdictions. None of whom were unaccustomed to working together across organizational boundaries. Together they faced challenges such as data and technical incompatibility, the lack of institutional incentives to collaborate, and power struggles within multi-organizational settings in government.

Understanding the factors influencing information sharing and collaboration in solving public problems is a focus for digital government practitioners and researchers alike.

CTG UAlbany is exploring these factors and providing new guidance for practitioners and new models of understanding for researchers.

For example, trust building has been identified as an important social process for developing cross-boundary information sharing among organizations and individuals.

Trust plays a critical role in fostering collaboration and allowing the development of enterprise-wide integrated information resources. Practitioners planning new cross-boundary information sharing initiatives must include resources for trust building among information sharing partners.

Leadership characteristics and authority strategies are also significant in creating and sustaining collaborative efforts across organizational boundaries. New guidance provides practical advice to leaders on how to create information sharing capability in government.

CTG UAlbany focused on cross-boundary collaboration and information sharing efforts through a National Science Foundation grant. The grant supported the use of a national survey to test a new model of cross-boundary information integration.

CTG UAlbany partnered with others create a North American Digital Government Working Group focused on cross-boundary information sharing and collaboration. '

This allowed us to explore key questions about maximizing the value of information assets held by government and to contribute to theoretical discussions about information sharing and collaboration as important social phenomena.

Sharing Justice Information: A Capability Assessment Toolkit 

The justice enterprise faces many performance challenges that can be addressed more successfully through better information-sharing initiatives.

These challenges differ in scope and complexity. Regardless of size, all these initiatives are made less difficult when participating organizations have high levels of information-sharing. Therefore, decisions to invest in information sharing initiatives must be grounded in a full understanding to identify and fill the gaps between current and required capability. 

This toolkit is designed for justice professionals to use when considering or planning for a justice information-sharing initiative. It provides a process for assessing capability for information sharing and where it must be developed in order to achieve public safety goals.

Assessment results provide a basis for action planning. 

This is a self-assessment tool. The toolkit was designed to facilitate discussion within individual organizations as well as across organizations involved in an information-sharing initiative.

Theresa Pardo, Director, CTG UAlbany