Editorial: Information control is an oxymoron

Information is like water – it resists being dammed.
Patrick Flannery
September 12, 2018
By
Our sister publication, Rock to Road, recently published a column by the president of the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association criticizing the Manitoba government for refusing to release information on how much needs to be invested in infrastructure in the province. 
The association knows the province has this information, but the province has invoked a clause in the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act that allows it to withhold data if it might “reveal advice, analyses or pending policy or budgetary decisions.”

The Freedom of Information Act is one of the more Orwellian oxymorons in Canadian government vocabulary. It’s actually a long list of conditions under which governments can refuse to share the information we all bought and paid for. But I digress...

It isn’t hard to imagine why Manitoba might want to hide this information. If the number needed for infrastructure investment is X, and the budget allocates less than X, then they can accurately be criticized for not looking after the province’s roads, rail lines, harbours and so on. If the number is more than X, they can be criticized for overspending and wasting money. We can assume that the number is not exactly X for two reasons: one, if it were, they wouldn’t try to hide it and, two, government budget priorities are more related to politics than the actual needs of society.

See what I did there? Absent an actual explanation for why the government won’t release the data, I speculated and reached a conclusion the government probably wouldn’t like. That’s what we journalists get to do when people refuse to answer questions. Which is why sophisticated information managers understand that the best approach is to offer as much transparency and truth about their organizations as possible.

This principle is, I must say, poorly understood by many organizations and companies I work with. There’s a constant effort to control the message; to only allow information into the open that is carefully crafted to achieve the desired effect. This could be seen as wise in theory, but in practice the result is much less information becoming public. That’s because every utterance must be run through a gauntlet of approvals before it can see the light of day. Few organizations devote enough resources to communications to push information past the red tape very quickly. They calculate that it’s better for the world to hear nothing about them than to hear something possibly derogatory.

Oscar Wilde said the only thing worse than people saying bad things about you is when they say nothing at all. Any organization that wants to flourish in this society of instant communication and short attention spans is well advised to keep up a steady outgoing flow of information. Excessive paranoia about the message dams that flow, while allowing unpredictable leaks to spring up around the edges.

Anyway, in the spirit of providing great information, I’m excited to debut our new Canadian Rental Rate Report in this issue. EquipmentWatch – a construction sector research firm I’m sure you are already aware of – has kindly agreed to share some of its Canadian-specific data on heavy equipment rental rates with you, the readers of this magazine. As useful and reliable information goes, it doesn’t get much better than this. And be assured, it represents only the tip of the iceberg of what EquipmentWatch has. I strongly recommend checking out their information products for all your benchmarking and budgeting needs.

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