The Spectrum of Transparency

June 5, 2012

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Today’s blog was written by Carol Pollack, Vice President of Finance and Operations.

The Transparency Heat Map from Glasspockets.org

What Do We Mean by Glass Pockets?

Transparency has always been on the Connecticut Health Foundation’s (CT Health) radar screen, but the advent of the “networked age” has changed how we address this.  Russell Leffingwell, Chair of the Carnegie Foundation in 1952 said, “We think that the foundation should have glass pockets.”  This means a foundation should be completely transparent and accountable for their work, like looking through a window.

The Foundation Center took this to heart and created Glasspockets.org, a website dedicated to highlighting how foundations use their print and electronic media to demonstrate transparency and accountability. Glasspockets offers a checklist for foundations so that they can rate their transparency. The heatmap (as pictured above) gives a visual representation of the transparency of the larger foundations (click here for a larger version).

How Does CT Health Stack Up?

CT Health does not currently have a profile on Glasspockets. The website did get some of us thinking, however, about where we fell on the heatmap, and the best way to improve our results.  We’re always striving to improve.

 

 

We do well in the red category since our website is active and contains the elements listed.  We also fare well in the orange sector where the only information we have (but do not currently publish) is our Conflict of Interest Policy.  As with many of the other foundations listed on the site, as you move to the right on the heatmap, there are more disclosures we do not make.

As for the yellow and green categories, personnel and Board related policies and procedures are not something we have typically published.  We do have a Code of Conduct, a Whistleblower Policy, an Investment Policy, Diversity policies and Board and Committee bylaws and charters.  Frankly, we never thought that outsiders would be interested in these.  We also have views on economic conditions and executive compensation but do not hold ourselves out as experts in these areas.

Moving to the blue category, we find having a blog creates a window into our pockets. About a year ago we dipped our toes into the social media world and we are now in up to our knees.  We blog, tweet, and contribute to YouTube and Facebook and Flickr.  Through these avenues we have communicated more about our work, philosophy and vision to a broader audience.

Many of the transparency mechanisms from above that we can’t check off (e.g. Knowledge Center and Grantee Feedback) would likely best be communicated via our website.  We launched a newly designed site in early 2011 and plan more changes for this year.  We are trying to find the right balance between full disclosure, and a website that is easy to navigate and where critical information is readily accessible.  This isn’t easy and we welcome your suggestions.

The most sensitive item on the map is disclosure on performance measures, including grantee survey results when they are available. CT Health seeks to define measures to track and evaluate performance, but this is hard work. The complicating factor is our theory of change, which is that to effect real change, you need to change systems. This is long-term work, and it is difficult to determine where our actions alone have created results.  In addition, sharing this analysis broadly is frankly intimidating because we worry that without context it will be misunderstood.  If you have good performance measures we’d love to hear from you.  Thoughts on how to communicate findings outside of the organization would also be helpful.

So, we think we are doing many things well but know that we have a ways to go to achieve full transparency.  This exercise has spurred our thinking and will likely impact the website’s content in future periods.  In the interim, if there is something you’d like to know about us, please ask!

 

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