As social business advocates we champion information-sharing at work and bemoan cultures that don’t. However, according to recent academic research, there may be good reasons, beyond intellectual property and privacy issues, for people not to share,
An ethnographic study of a bio-informatics team in China looked at practices around sharing software. Sharing data is central to contemporary science, and software is of primary importance to its progress. Accordingly, investigators — from the School of Computer Science at Fudan University in Shanghai and the Human Centered Design & Engineering department at the University of Washington in Seattle — to understand the tension between sharing and control within an emerging discipline that merges biology with IT.
A fishing pole instead of a fish
One of their findings relates to internal practices. For example, members of a team write their own code, or script, in the course of their work. But instead of posting it online for all team members to use as needed, they share it only when asked for it. Investigators uncovered good reasons for this practice.
Training junior members of the team has high priority; so faculty and senior researchers need to determine when to share what is already available and when to have students practice coding themselves. Finding answers on the intranet may help scientists-in-training solve an immediate problem. It does not, however, necessarily develop the skills they need to innovate in the future. Hence the use of a “request-and-give” protocol for sharing.
Documentation and peer review
Another finding looks at boundaries to sharing software across the wider scientific community. When submitting an academic paper for review, scientists must also provide documentation, rationale and algorithms for the software they used in their work. In this way the publication of scientific findings is tied to the associated software as part of the peer review process. Proliferation of undocumented software is thereby controlled and the scientific community gains access to software they can trust and use.
So, what is the purpose of this non-judgmental way of looking at sharing versus control? For the authors of this study it’s the way to create better social software. Do you think their findings apply to social software in business settings? And if so, to what extent?
Via Follow the Crowd