Reaching the delicate balance of transparency can be a tricky task. In all the districts that I’ve worked, I’ve never experienced the kind of complete transparency that everyone would like to see. Mostly, I think this is due to so many factors that go into being transparent that it’s difficult to have all of those components in place. You can’t just “be transparent” and everyone is happy. There is a balance.
Transparency is the releasing of information in a way that stakeholders know what is happening, the “why” behind decisions being made, and how exactly it will affect them in their roles. Many times I’ve heard how there should be “complete transparency”, but we never really define what that means, and it seems to a term that is hard to quantify. How much information is necessary for complete transparency? What crosses the lines into too much information, the wrong kinds of information, or even privacy lines? The balance for transparency comes when there is a healthy mix between the information that stakeholders are receiving and the trust that stakeholders have in the people making the decisions.
This became the most obvious to me when I was in a technology integrator and spent time working around administration, even though I wasn’t one myself, and then the rest of the time I spent in classrooms with teachers. Inevitably, I would see decisions made on the administrative side that made sense with the information and data that they had, but would then hear teachers grumble about decisions made because they didn’t understand how the admins had come to those conclusions. I remember this happening to me when I was a teacher in other districts as well. A top-down decision would be made and I would think, “What were they thinking?!?” because I didn’t have the information that brought the admins (or decision-making committees) to those conclusions.
Worst case scenario, of course, is no transparency, which I have experienced as well. A lack of any kind of transparency (ie, when you find important decisions that were made buried deep down in board meeting minutes and only knew because you read them). A lack of transparency breeds distrust. It’s like saying, “I don’t trust you to come to the right conclusions with this information.” And if someone isn’t forthcoming with info, then we immediately want to know WHAT the info is and WHY they wouldn’t tell us.
While I am a ginormous advocate for consistently giving the why, I think that there is always the issue of giving too much information to where stakeholders begin to tune out as well. At some point, we need to trust people to do their jobs and make the best decisions possible with the information they are given. In every district I’ve been in, without fail, if people do not trust the decision-makers, they will desire MORE transparency to decide for themselves if their decisions are valid. After all, when someone withholds information/reasons/data/the “why”, they are already making a decision for you by not providing you with the information that you need to make the best decision for yourself. If we trust these people, we are more likely to be ok with this than if we don’t trust them.
So, there is more to transparency than just giving out information. There is the right timing, the right amount of information, and addressing multiple possibilities of decisions & how one was made…but also the question of “how much does our staff trust us?” (with an honest reflection on this question, because if your staff doesn’t trust you, you’re already not supporting them properly). If there is a lack of trust, more transparency will be needed to support decisions, and ultimately, this transparency will help build the rapport and trust necessary for stakeholders to ultimately be accepting of the people making the decisions.