26th Annual Hazards Research and Applications Workshop

Current Session: Sharing Information World-Wide: Take Two

Date: Monday, July 16, 2001      4-5:30pm
Moderator: David Butler  Natural Hazards Center
Speakers: Sarah Michaels Natural Hazards Center
Nicole Appel U.N. International Secretariat for Disaster Reduction
Kamal Kishore Asian Disaster Preparedness Center
Steve Bender Organization of American States
 Recorder: Nancy Mock Tulane University
Does knowledge exchange contribute to reducing vulnerability? What international programs have included knowledge sharing? Why have some efforts been more successful than others? This session provides an opportunity to address these questions and, more broadly, to exchange ideas about constructive forms of cross-national knowledge transfer.



  David Butler Sarah Michaels Nicole Appel Kamal Kishore Steve Bender





   Audio and Video Enabled with Realplay G2 



This session builds upon a special interest group that grew from last year’s workshop. The purpose of the session was to identify lessons gleaned from case studies and the collective experience of panelists and session participants. Panelists represented academia and institutions directly engaged in international information sharing. The presentations covered definitional aspects of the problem, specific experiences and lessons learned from global and regional organizations undertaking information sharing, and linkages between information sharing and regional policy issues.   More than 50 participants attended the session.

Speakers and participants were asked by the moderator to focus on the questions: what worked, why it worked, how we know it worked, what did not work, why it did not work. The ultimate goal of the session was to produce a list of approximately ten guidelines for new international information sharing activities.

The first presentation, by Sarah Michaels, provided definition to the problem of information sharing. Important distinctions were made between data, information and knowledge (representing observation, data endowed with relevance and purpose, and actionable information respectively). Explicit or codified knowledge and tacit or subjective knowledge are both important. Finally ways to share information and knowledge include push or supply side strategies such as electronic newsletters and pull methods that actively engage users at the point of need, such as search engines. The panelist emphasized the need to balance tacit and explicit knowledge and push and pull strategies in order to achieve successful information exchange.

 Nicole Appel then reviewed the information-sharing component of the global IDNDR/ ISDR program. This program conducted annual and periodic systematic global campaigns that relied heavily on information sharing activities. Lessons from this experience include the importance of clear identification of the geographic scope and substance of international initiatives, and the need to explicitly define these activities within a project framework that includes adequate resourcing, applied research and a monitoring and evaluation plan.

Kamal Kishor drew lessons from several Asia regional information-sharing activities that are being supported by the APDC. These activities address a variety of hazards and include various types of organizations and country clusters. One important conclusion of the presenter is that information is not enough. Effective information sharing requires the development of a community of consumers who have shared perspectives and needs. Tacit information becomes critical to this process. Similarly, ownership by users enhances the use of information and the sustainability of information sharing activities. Mobilization of resources at the local and national level therefore is important. The presenter also counseled against front-end focus on organizational structures, but rather recommended that form should follow function or that structures should evolve behind successful information sharing activities. He also observed that diverse layers of organizations are usually involved, each layer having its own information culture. Ideally, these can enhance each other, but potential frictions also must be handled.

 Finally, Steve Bender summarized the OAS’s experience in information sharing in the Americas. He prefaced his remarks with the comment that information sharing activities in this region can be successful if they focus on reducing vulnerability of the existing socio-economic infrastructure or the problem of risk management in development. Natural hazards vulnerability by itself is actually a low priority for most countries of the region. He also stressed the importance of accountability as a determinant of information use. Until those who are owners and operators of vulnerable property/communities are held accountable for disaster losses, local information use is unlikely to flourish.

Throughout the session, several recurrent themes led to the formulation of the following guidelines for consideration by anyone initiating an international information sharing activity:

  • Learn from previous efforts (there is a rich and diverse experience base upon which to build)
  • Listen to affected populations as part of the strategy of information sharing activities
  • Recognize that information is only one element to effective information sharing and use. Others include information needs of users, management and political priorities of users, cultural factors and social accountability
  • Remember that natural hazards vulnerability is not the top priority of most countries so it is important to draw linkages to development risk management
  • Create interactions and balance between explicit and tacit knowledge
  • Strike a balance between push and pull knowledge sharing methods
  • Ensure that information sharing activities are adequately resourced and evaluated
  • Ensure ownership through joint sponsorship by the various user communities
  • Recognize the diversity of user group cultures and information needs and ensure that the strategy adequately addresses these or alternatively that the activities scope/target specific communities/user groups
  • Let form (organizational structure) follow function in the design of information sharing activities. Don’t get hung up in high cost bureaucratic structures early in the activity but rather let the structure grow from need.

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