Structured Local Information Exchange

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Mike Powell

Problems exist with the way information is used to make local decisions which affect the lives of those in geographic communities.

Information is not shared between agencies - or even between departments within large organisations - which means data is collected and recollected. This is inefficient.

Information is not shared between sectors - especially between the governors and the governed - which means that decisions are often less effective.


Inclusion in an information age means more than having your own web page. In the area of governance it means that citizens and community organisations need to be able to access data held by government bodies about them and about their communities. They need to be able to query that data to ask it the questions which are important to them and to shape the data to help them identify issues and plan ways of addressing them.

It also means that information produced by citizens and by community organisations and not-for-profits could and should be used by local officials when they plan their work.


Experience in the UK suggests that collaborative approaches to information sharing in the area of local government and community development is rare. Official agencies are often poor at sharing information between themselves. Typically, if information is exchanged it is done so on a 'one-off' basis rather than making the data continuously available. Real information sharing between the official sector and the community sector is rare in the extreme despite an alleged committment to work in partnerships.

There are of course a number of serious issues which need to be addressed if information is to be shared - quality, confidentiality, capacity to interogate multiple and differently structured databases. However experience in Sheffield UK suggests that the greatest barriers are organisational. People do not conceive of information as having multiple uses or of how information collected under the formal banners of transport, health, education, community etc. can be turned round and brought together as information about place.

Beyond the lack of vision are bureaucratic prejudices against sharing, of hanging on to what is 'ours', of using the issues which need to be addressed as barriers rather than as issues rather as issues to be resolved. One officially required exercise which identified 36 sources of information about children and childcare in the city and secured management approval to access this information, actually only succeeded in getting the information from 18 sources.

Sharing information cannot mean centralising it - centralisation only increases political, organisational and technical difficulties.


Sharing and two way use of information, especially between government and civil society, needs to be recognised as a fundamental element of 'e-governance'. Information needs to be available continuously. It is best made available by peer-to-peer links across a collaboratively (and probably organically) grown local information architecture. This architecture can start with a limited numbers of genuine collaborators building a model for information sharing, which others can then join in. Protocols, covering type of information, confidentiality, quality and responsibility for maintenanceetc. need to be agreed relative to each item of information. The author has drafted a short Memo on Information Sharing Protocols which is available on request.

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