Julie Montgomery, director of innovation and learning at InterAction, said that to protect staff, her organization often does not indicate their exact locations on publicly available information sources. The question then becomes whether to have public and private databases, where some information is shared only with certain groups.
Susanna Campbell added that the type of data and the operating environment need to be distinguished. In some countries, the US military or other parts of the US government are heavily involved, while in other countries they are not. The risks involved in the exchange of a given type of information change as the degree of violence changes.
Eric Gundersen, president and cofounder of Development Seed, pointed to factors other than security that can influence information sharing. One is interoperability. When information is published in the form of PDFs, for example, it typically needs to be loaded by hand into databases, which can severely slow data sharing. In other cases, key data are missing, are not available, or can be obtained only from sources that cannot be publicly cited.
Gregor Bailar, retired chief information officer of Capital One Financial Corporation, pointed to factors that affect the value of data: timeliness, reliability, completeness, accuracy, insight, and actionability. And the single most important attribute of valuable information is that it comes from a trusted source. Really valuable data are scarce, he said, and relatively few people have access to those data. Also, operational data can be much more valuable than data generated through a research study, because operational data can always be fresh.
Hartwell observed that researchers often need to protect vulnerable sources, which means that researchers need to be trusted for their results to be seen as credible. She added that the turnover of personnel is “a huge issue,” not just in civil society organizations but in the military. People can be doing great work, “and then they leave and take everything with them.” And new people coming in may not know about work that has been done earlier, which can be tremendously frustrating. One way to avoid such situations is to establish protocols for ongoing information gathering and dissemination that everyone understands so that knowledge of procedures and findings extends beyond current personnel.
Finally, Roman emphasized that NGOs and the military may have different missions, but that NGO personnel are “great American heroes” to the military. “We share a common goal,” he said. “In the end, it boils down to human security.”