Traditionally, an organisations’s management distributed information along a well-defined, top-down channel. Today, due to the spread of social technologies, information can be shared with great ease and almost no effort. This ease of information sharing makes it very difficult to assure that all information travels along the defined channels. Thus, many organisations that already use social technologies to a wider extend are facing the problem of how to adopt their policies to the new nature of information sharing.
Open information sharing means to “establish an organisational and technical infrastructure that encourages free exchange but also enforces controls that mitigate the risks of irresponsible use,” according to authors Roland Deiser and Sylvain Newton. There are six different concepts of open information sharing.
Six elements of information sharing according to author Charlene Li
1. Explaining decisions
This concept aims at explaining management decisions and strategies. Employees should not only understand management’s behavior but also comprehend the background of their decisions and strategies. This may strengthen their motivation.
Using social technologies to explain decisions is a first step to openness and is already widespread. The intranet of many organisations has evolved into a corporate social network that includes internal weblogs. Employees are able to comment and discuss decisions made by their managers. Vice versa the management can listen to staff opinions and take part in ongoing discussions.
2. Mutual report
With mutual reporting, management and employees of an organisation regularly provide and update each other with information about current developments. Social technologies enable an interactive, two-way exchange of information. They can also be divided into individual communication channels to which executives and employees can subscribe.
3. Information sharing with partners
Information exchange can include both internal and external information that staff or management exchange with external stakeholders of the organisation. The general aim is to build and maintain external relationships in order to obtain direct access to all relevant information. The two previous concepts described how organisations use social technologies for internal information sharing, while this and the following concepts refer to the information exchange with external partners.
For example, German independent farmers report the cultivation of new types of grain seeds to an association of plant seed companies, Saaten-Union. The association recently introduced a platform called BestSeed, on which farmers as well as employees of the association can share information on their seeds and discuss issues such as pests and storms. The exchange aims at boosting the performance of plant cultivation.
4. Encourage Participation
Employees, customers, partners or external supporters are invited to contribute their opinion, their own ideas or any other information. The information collected allows the organisation to assess its own performance from different perspectives and to build on the motivation and engagement of individuals who are willing to freely support the goals of the organisation.
One successful campaign falling under this concept has in recent years been conducted by the Suisse committee of Unicef in its fight against the circumcision of girls. The committee launched a virtual postcard that supporters could forward to friends, including through Facebook. More than 20,000 supporters joined the campaign, which led to a law explicitly banning circumcision in Switzerland since 2012.
5. Outsource Problem Solving
An open exchange with customers and business partners can generate ideas that help to improve the organisation’s performance, to solve specific problems and to develop innovations. In recent years a growing number of organisations has started to offer outside individuals the possibility to participate in open innovation projects. Examples of these open innovation projects are customers that suggest new products, external experts that solve existing problems and online communities that develop the company’s design.
6. Open Interfaces
This last concept of open information sharing is different to the others because it does not focus on the exchange between people but on the exchange between computers. Open interfaces allow external actors to build on standardized processes of the organisation and enhance theseprocesses by adding new components. They also allow the automatic exchange of information, which is often the basis for entirely new services.
About the Author
Daniel Michelis is professor at the Anhalt University of Applied Sciences and visiting lecturer at the University of St. Gallen, where he received his PhD at the Institute for Media and Communications Management. The focus of his work is the usage of online communications and social media in companies and organizations.
He is the editor of the Social Media Handbuch (Nomos Verlag) and in 2013 he initiated the masters degree programme Online Communication at the Anhalt University of Applied Sciences.