goals and timelines. In many cases, they do not even speak the same language. For example, to the military, “coordination” means the ability to direct; to civilian organizations, it means consultation and consensus; and to NGOs, it means avoid contradictory activities or—more positively—sharing information. These differences can be strength, in that different organizations bring different perspectives to a problem, but unity of effort may be an elusive goal.
Some of these challenges can be addressed by institutionalizing and formalizing relationships, Loftis said. For example, a mechanism such as the Civilian Military Relations Working Group in Nonpermissive Environments, which brings together a variety of organizations for discussions every few months, can provide a framework for cooperation. But such mechanisms are means to an end and not ends in themselves. They are typically built on personal relations that do not necessarily carry over as personnel change. Personal relations and trust must therefore be continually refreshed and renewed. A relationship that worked in one context is not guaranteed to work in another, even with the same individuals. And as great as the challenges are in a purely American context, they are multiplied many times over in multinational or multilateral environments.
Data sharing can be useful in building relationships and trust, Loftis concluded. It can start on a small scale and gradually expand as trust and experience build. But assumptions and expectations about the use and distribution of data must be made explicit early, some data will be easier to share than others, systems have to evolve over time to be effective, and data sharing is no substitute for critical thinking and communication.
To understand the challenges of information sharing, it needs to be seen in the context of the broader structure and experience of civilian-military relations and civilian management of humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding activities, said Randy Tift, senior policy advisor in the World Vision US International Programs Group. For NGOs, information sharing occurs along a spectrum of involvement, from information gathering and needs assessment to the use of information for the delivery of aid or services. As an example of the latter, Tift cited the earthquake in Haiti: NGOs responded to demands from the UN, the United States, and the host government for information and coordination, resulting in a much greater degree of donor coordination.