Today I was thinking about what it means to be transparent (after much discussion yesterday at the Open IAI Open Discussion). The Wikipedia entry on the topic is a good start: Transparency, implies openness, communication and accountability.
Transparency is commonly used politically as a reactive outcry in response to corruption, suspicious secrecy and privacy of what should otherwise be public. I wish it was thought of more as positive intent than a reaction to badness, but at least it’s more prevalent than it used to be. In the context of the IA Institute, I definitely want to frame the conversation about transparency in those different terms: Transparency as something to aspire to as an organization, a desire to be open, to facilitate and encourage communication and the courage to be held accountable – internally and externally.
It’s very easy to rally around this idea, but how easy is it to actually live that — or “implement” it throughout an organization? I’m trying to learn more about that through the Open IAI. From the moment Matt, Russ and I decided to do this, I committed to really focus on the specific actions that would enable this transparency.
So far what I’ve learned is that it certainly involves letting go and getting comfortable with the notion that you might fuck up. Really, if you are committed to letting people see what’s going on — how the sausage is made (damn, I hate this expression but it’s so useful) — then they are going to see stuff that you may not be proud of in hindsight. It may not even be something very big, probably something you’d just downplay because it didn’t really impact anyone. Hopefully, by being transparent about it, they WON’T let you slide and will point it out, and complain, and talk about it and this and that, and you’ll learn from it. Even if you learned from it before they knew or said anything.
For example, the chat we had last night. Just one announcement would probably have gotten a handful or people there and we could have had our one hour of conversation as planned. I would have considered that successful, but we spent time figuring out the best way to do it (video chat? something else? what’s the best video chat?), brought it up through all the different channels we had with the time available (Twitter, Facebook, IAI Discussion list, personal emails, acquaintances and work relationships – at least for me), spent 3 ours chatting instead of 1 because everyone was engaged and kept asking questions, tried to capture a summary for people who couldn’t be there, surveyed people who attended to find out how it could be done better and if it was valuable, etc.
I definitely think these steps make something as simple as a little online discussion a lot more relevant. It’s funny because it WAS just a chat. There was really nothing special about it as a chat. It wasn’t even amazing. It was fun and productive, but anyone could have this same discussion at any time. My hope is that people do see in this tiny little example, that a conscious effort to be transparent means a more valuable outcome for all. (That’s my hope in hindsight, my original intent was to first, have a good discussion and second, to learn from it so it can be even better next time and really practice what we are ‘preaching’.)
This is an attempt to take actions that allow for the openness, communication and accountability that a “transparent” group needs to take. Transparency for me is about a more human and direct engagement, not ‘bursts of communication’ (that’s a CYA approach in my opinion – it’s keeping people ‘in the loop’ enough that they don’t resent/hate/complain/ask questions). For example, I wrote down all these things we did for the Open Discussion above – sounds great, right? I didn’t mention that when I created a survey asking for feedback, I didn’t ask if I could share the feedback, if I could track their IPs (turns out the survey tool does that even though I didn’t ask! – don’t worry, I have no idea what to do with that) nor did I tell them what I was going to do with that info other than the generic “it will help us make it better”. With that:
For the respondents of the Open IAI Open Discussion:
Thanks for the feedback. Now that I’ve read it, I really want to share, but I never asked if I could. My bad, I will definitely do that next time. Meanwhile, I turned all your good thinking into an incognito cloud so I could share something without making you think I am evil/inconsiderate/oblivious:
Ok, so this is so small that if you are still reading this you may think it’s insignificant. That was my first reaction, but then I stepped back and thought about how being transparent is about being forthcoming about what’s going on, not what you want other people to perceive about what’s going on. It’s still a small example, but I’ll be sure to share my bigger screw ups as they happen. Stay tuned.
So, transparency — how do you live that? What I’m learning with this is what the old master told us long ago (in 1980): “Do… or do not. There is no try.”