Over the last few weeks I have had conversations with a number of people who referred to their frustration withmisinformation in the collaborative processes they are involved in. Two of the people were Councillors, one was a property developer and the other was a business owner interested in development. Although the people were from different sectors, different parts of the country and were participating in different collaborative processes, they shared the challenge of working with people who, in their opinion, were spreading misinformation.

Wikipedia defines misinformation as being “false or incorrect information, spread intentionally or unintentionally.”

The apparent misinformation on their various projects was making collaboration challenging, slowing it down and in some cases blocking momentum. The reaction of the people I talked with, ranged from a commitment to get the ‘right information out there’ to an unwillingness to participate in public forums with those doing the misinforming.

I then reflected that a number of other people in the same collaborative processes have been referring to poor information flow or lack of transparency. They are experiencing a similar level of frustration as those concerned about misinformation yet for different reasons.

These concerns highlight the very important role that INFORMATION plays in collaborative processes. Information isn’t something magical and sacred. It is data generated by some individuals and processed by others to give it meaning. An important step with collaborative processes is to share data with many people so it is processed and interpreted in diverse ways with the aim of reaching new levels of understanding. With this new and shared understanding comes the possibility of solutions to previously unsolvable dilemmas.

Information is not a neutral ground however. Information becomes FACT when people interpret and take ownership of it and can be vigorously defended when challenged. Experts have a vested interest in their information and can be threatened when their information is re-interpreted and then combined with the information of others.

Information can equal power and it is therefore important to explore what is going on in a collaborative process when concerns about information or misinformation are expressed. Perhaps misinformation is a cry to converse more? Perhaps people who appear to be misinforming are saying “I can’t process your data until you have heard my perspective.”

In conclusion, next time we hear the use of the term ‘misinformation’ – how about we pause and consider how we might listen and process data more effectively ourselves. Instead of being frustrated, should we regard the ‘misinforming’ behaviour as a useful flag to converse more? Remember that the most effective conversations mostly involve asking questions and doing excellent listening!


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