Ethics of "Inside Information"

I have an ethical question that I’ve so far played very conservatively, but I’m interested in hearing the community’s opinion on what is appropriate.

This year I’ve been in the interesting position of being both a mentor of an FRC team, and a member of the committee at work that decides which teams to sponsor. The leaders of the committee know that I’m a mentor, and all employee mentors are invited to join the committee, because we have the background knowledge necessary to evaluate FRC programs.

As a member of the grant committee, I’ve been privy to information about teams that I wouldn’t come across as a regular mentor. For example, the grant applications I review contain detailed information about how teams organize themselves, what kinds of creative outreach they do, how they recruit new members and encourage team bonding, etc. More recently, a team we sponsor sent us a “team update” describing their experience at a recent competition, and thanking us for making it possible.

I’ve been tempted at times to share some of this information (anonymized, of course) with my team, as part of brainstorming ways to improve. But I’ve refrained from doing so, because perhaps those teams wouldn’t want it shared? The FIRST community is usually very open about sharing information with other teams, but I still don’t want to do it without their permission. But, I’m not sure how I could ask their permission without them feeling pressured to say yes because I’m on the grant committee. Is there any ethical way to use these ideas? Or should I just try to keep these two roles completely separate, and ignore the insights I’m getting from these glimpses into other teams?

Just ask the teams involved if you can share this info with your team. Almost any team in FRC would be happy to share information about how they operate with others; there is basically no culture of secrecy around team organization. FRC is a collaborative league where teams routinely share information and help each other, so it wouldn’t even seem like an unusual request.


Playing it conservatively is probably not a bad idea. As a team submitting information related to sponsorship, I wouldn’t be expecting that info to get shared with other teams in the area. I’d bet 99% of of the info I’d gladly share myself anyway, but in general I would want my team to be doing the sharing, not 3rd-party through a sponsor.

I think it’s valid to say things to your team to the tune of “I’ve heard of a good way of doing XYZ, let me look into it more”, contact the other team, and see if they’d let you bring the info over.

The other thing to keep in mind in situations like this: Avoid both real and perceived conflicts of interest. Even if your involvement is 100% innocent, if it looks bad, it’s just as concerning if it is bad.


I see no issue with asking a team if they’re willing to share. If it were me, I would send the request from my team-affiliated email (not your work email!), and send it directly to a mentor, not a student or generic team address. Generally speaking, an adult is going to be able to separate out your roles and understand that one doesn’t impact the other, and then guide their team appropriately. With students, you run the risk that they’ll just see you as an authority figure over their team and react to that, rather than understanding the separation of roles.

Another way to approach it - tell your team “I think team XXXX has a good way of doing that, you should contact them and ask how they handle it!”. In that case, you aren’t really sharing any info, just getting your team in a position to go find the info they need.

And one final way to approach it - as part of the grant committee, you may have influence over how they operate. Pushing for a more open and transparent system, one that includes posting (some of?) the information publicly, would solve this problem in a heartbeat. Everyone applying would know their info was being shared, and your team would be able to grab it as needed.


I’ve come across this situation while working with multiple teams during the same season. We also have another mentor who works with another team.

I personally think that it would be unfair to the students on the sponsored team to share their information to help your own team without discussing it with them first. What I would suggest is to have you students contact their team asking for help.

Because FIRST is so open with this information I think that if it is information that does not harm the team disclosing the information. For example if a team says the went to x location to recruit then it would be unethical to go to that location without asking. If the information does not harm that team like a way of team bonding or community it is okay. Of course you can ask the teams while making sure and assuring them that their sponsorship is not at risk. Lastly when your company sponsors them tell them that the information told to them is not confidential.

Move the grant process to be open. Have the submissions online and review able by all the people submitting for grants, as a Condiction of submitting.


My opinion is that, in most cases, there would be zero problems sharing it with your team. Creative outreach ideas, and the other things you mentioned, are the sorts of things that most teams would be willing to share, and all teams ought to be willing to share (in my opinion).

There are a few exceptions. If there is a specific event being planned, it would be kind of tacky to decide it was such a good idea that you would do it yourselves, and undercut their efforts by holding it at the same time, or before theirs. If it is about a specific sponsor, saying, “Maybe we should ask them to sponsor us instead of them” would obviously be an issue. In other words, as long as what you are sharing is an idea, as opposed to specific details that your team can react to, I can’t see any issue. We ought to be all about sharing ideas and helping each other. How a team recruits new members would very rarely be “inside information”.

Of course, judge each situation separately. If it looks too personal, keep it to yourself, but most of the things you mentioned shouldn’t be that sort of thing, in most case.

This is something you should clarify with the grant committee, and perhaps your employer’s owner/board of directors. There are companies (and even government agencies) which explicitly prefer (or ONLY) support teams mentored by their employees, and companies which try to be more neutral. Insider information in this case is essentially corporate/company information (as it does not affect external markets), and should be treated as the corporation/company desires.

FIRST is kind of all about just having fun and, of course, GP (which I guess this falls under), right? So, mention you’re from the grant committee to make sure they know you didn’t steal that information or do anything suspicious, then ask the team(s) whether they would be okay with sharing the information, making it painfully obvious that their response does not in any way affect their relationship with the grant committee and whatnot without actually bluntly and directly stating that it has no effect (because it may seem suspicious that it was stated so obviously otherwise). After all, as you said, they would probably be okay with sharing this stuff anyway, so I guess you could get permission this way as long as you also state exactly what you would be sharing. Just what I think would be okay.

This brings up an interesting idea…

What if the grant application had a checkbox about sharing certain parts about their Grant Application. The parts that could be used as resources for other teams, and then I am guessing as a pretty prevalent sponsor if your company has a committee for this release some of these resources in a brainstorming list format, and then publish it to for teams to see.

A lot of talk here about the ethics of sharing other teams information, but really I see a big ethical dilemma in the fact that only your team would get this information.

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