What is transparency? Throughout my involvement in different educational systems, institutions of higher learning, and other types of business ventures such as health care or non-profit entities, I have learned that transparency is something I highly value and look for when I am involved in a system. It is also something I aim to be part of when decision-making and developing choices for the directions of programs. The reason I have an affinity for honesty and transparency is that I feel a personal responsibility in decision making. I feel that if those that decisions affect are not involved in the decision itself, honesty and transparency have not been supported.
Any institutional or leadership decision that is thrust upon its constituents or stakeholders without transparency is subject to mistrust and a lack of support. There are numerous examples of this, ranging from our current day political situation to our home town institutions. I have seen the mistrust a number of times and can intuit the reasons behind it developing. Fortunately, the people behind some of these unilateral decisions are no longer in power, but still, to accomplish transparency going forward, an invitation for input on decision-making needs to be authentically and sincerely put forth with acceptance for involvement by the community of stakeholders. So, as you can see, there might still be some stumbling blocks for a system to successfully accomplish transparency. Not only do those stakeholders need a seat at the table, their view and expertise must also be considered. Very often, it is only a “show” of inclusion.
Let’s look at some definitions. What is transparency?
Without referring to a dictionary, transparency, to me, means to see through. When one thinks of systems, such as school systems or businesses, the first thing that might come to mind is financial transparency. A brief scan on the internet will inform you that this sector of transparency is a big deal. Stakeholders and constituents of public institutions and even businesses that they desire to do business with want to know where the money is being spent. Although important, this is really not the type of transparency that I’ve questioned or had much experience with as I’ve become concerned about the issue. My concerns stem more from the transparency of decision -making, especially those decisions that greatly affect those in the care of the system or business. Of course, for me personally, this would include education and healthcare.
If there is transparency, the reasons behind decisions must be clear (transparent). According to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, this means readily understood and without deceit, pretense, or agenda. Perhaps, the most applicable definition of transparent is: “characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices.”
Every logistical, tactical, and procedural decision, or policy, that is developed and implemented in both education and healthcare has a great effect on those who are part of that system. Very often, if decisions are made and implemented without the correct pacing (too quickly or too slowly), the desired impact will not be evidenced for years. Additionally, if there is not enough transparency in the decision-making to be inclusive of those “in the trenches” so to speak – “the implementers” and those affected by the decisions that they were not part of, little support for those decisions will be garnered, and mistrust is bred.
I suppose my interest in transparency started twenty-some years ago. I relied on it existing when we decided to move from New York to Wisconsin. I used an online system called SchoolMatch.com to compare the five or six school districts in the area to which we were considering moving. My thoughts were this: we are moving from a great school district (our only child had two years of preschool at the time), so we needed to find a great new school district in which to live. School Match provided 22 criteria to use and upon which to base our decision-making. I have to say, it did not steer us wrong. But, the transparency in a platform like SchoolMatch, is only as good as the information provided. Some twenty years later, I would like to think the site offers those who seek it even more insight into the districts they are considering.
Today, my concern most often involves those decisions that affect student outcomes. A change in grading policy, or a lack of communicated policy change, is most concerning. In all honesty, as a parent who has three gifted sons (including one of whom who was never really appreciated for his gifts), it causes angst when decisions are driven by the shoring up of those struggling rather than challenging our brightest and best. Don’t get me wrong. Both should be done. However, oft-times, only the former gets addressed. In addition, I have witnessed decisions that were made and then quickly changed, so that student outcomes could not be compared from year to year. With two of my boys being close enough in age to experience some courses back to back when the grading system changed – despite the fact that content remained the same, it was like comparing apples and oranges. As you can imagine one benefited, while one did not.
Transparency is tricky. It takes a leadership team willing to expose themselves and their thought processes, as well as being honest about any constraints that might exist. Essentially, they must be able to explain the “why” of decisions. In addition, stakeholders must be willing to step up and say, yay or nay, after ideas are proposed. This means caring enough to be involved and pay attention. Taking into consideration informed public opinion, desire, and even knowledge is a key component of effective decision-making when trying to be transparent.
This post is not to complain, but to inform. If you believe there is more to a decision than meets the eye or mind, ask about it! I have done so in the past on several occasions. I ask you to do so now and in the future.
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