Thursday, 15 October 2009

Who is responsible for Transparency?

Last week, I spoke to a meeting organised by the Charity Finance Directors' Group. It took place what had been a Public School assembly hall in the City of London. It was a splendid late-19thC room with stained glass windows depicting great thinkers with a lofty hammer-beamed roof and tablets on the walls recording the academic successes of pupils in their Oxford or Cambridge exams.

Which, frankly, sat uneasily with the trapping of modern meetings, a vast screen, computer technology. And, indeed, with the subject matter for the meeting, developments in IT for charities in the last year. I spoke about how we might go beyond the rhetoric that crowds and obfuscates the debate about transparency and get to practical steps that people might take to improve their transparency and the way that they relate to their stakeholders (which is a long-winded way of saying accountability). So I was taken aback during the questions when it seemed that the audience, most of whom were IT professionals didn't 'get it' that they had the opportunity to be at the cutting edge, the pioneers, of what institutional transparency and accountability will look like in the future.

It's easy to get a little dispirited. But my thinking goes like this: the way in which we map the territory of relationships between charities, their beneficiaries, their donors and their stakeholder is changing. It's more demanding, but social media and other developments offer us opportunities to enter into a creative dialogue with our stakeholders. The will have a real effect on how we think about our reporting and our communicating. Look at the thinking of Steve Bridger, Rachel Beer, or Howard Lake, all of whom have influenced and stretched my thinking. All of them show how new media will change us as charities, and, I would add, it will change how we engage in our impact reporting, we will get better at articulating the difference that we make. In the end we will feel both comfortable and strengthened by being open and responsive. This is transparency as a way of life, not a tool of political spin. And IT professionals in the charity sector should be taking the lead

1 comment:

  1. I think it is a common mistake to confuse the role of IT professionals with the technology they deal with: It is the hardware, the technology, which within its exciting new capacities and applications, creates cutting edge" thinking from the users who can see its applicability to their organisations and endeavors. The IT professionals might know what all the bells and whistles do, but they can only be re-active to the insights of the users. Rather like the man who builds your car is not the person you would ask to teach you to drive! In any sector we must thus learn to make the right demands of IT professionals, not expect them to provide answers to questions wed have yet to ask and they do not know exist.