Data Is No Free Gift: An Anthropological Perspective on Data Sharing in an Inter-Organizational Context


  • Ende, Leonore van den
  • Marrewijk, Alfons van



Organizational research on data sharing in inter-organizational contexts is limited, giving little insight into why data is or is not shared, often bypassing social and cultural norms, values and perspectives, and issues of power, (dis)trust, and (un)willingness to share. Drawing on an empirical study in the infrastructure sector in the Netherlands, where administrators increasingly urge infrastructure operators to share their data to create a more integrated and resilient infrastructure network, we ask: How is data sharing enabled and constrained according to organizational actors of critical infrastructure operators? Our findings exhibit five perceived challenges and five opportunities of sharing data, providing two main contributions to business anthropology and organization studies. Theoretically, we reconceptualize data sharing as “gift-giving,” helping to identify and understand the human-centered facets hitherto overlooked such as the reciprocal relations and cultural tensions associated with inter-organizational data exchange. Empirically, contributing in a more pragmatic sense, we add the notion of “enclosing” which entails the situational exchange of mutually agreed upon, limited data among pre-selected organizations via a bounded platform. We suggest that the enclosed platforms provide a context conducive for reciprocal data-gifting and a framework for future practical applications of data sharing in (inter)organizational settings.


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