Sharing to Succeed: Lessons from Open Information-sharing Projects in Afghanistan

Download Now
421.57 KB PDF

Linton Wells II, James Bosworth, John Crowley, and Rebecca Linder Blachly

The sharing of information in complex civil-military operations is important, yet actors rarely do it well. U.S. and allied military forces must be able to communicate, collaborate, and exchange information effectively with the local populations they seek to influence, or they cannot achieve the goals for which they have been committed. Nonetheless, experience from stability operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, numerous humanitarian assistance/disaster relief missions, and efforts to build the capacity of foreign partners suggest that effective information-sharing is much harder than might be expected. This paper sheds light on the difficulties of setting up and sustaining projects to share information in such situations and suggests ways to do better in the future.

The reasons are straightforward. Government practitioners are unfamiliar with many of the technical solutions to ineffective information-sharing. Moreover, information-sharing runs counter to long-held information-controlling habits. Incentives rarely reward sharing and instead punish leaks. Projects that try to mitigate information-sharing problems typically take a long time to develop, need broad coalitions to implement, and have results that are hard to measure and attribute. Many of the stakeholders do not have institutional ties and some actively seek to minimize relationships with each other. As has often been seen in projects in Afghanistan, changes in personnel and government priorities can make projects hard to sustain. Collectively, the impacts have been detrimental to information-sharing. This paper draws on examples from Afghanistan to highlight some lessons that members of diverse organizations have observed over a number of years.