Transparency Talk

Category: "Storytelling" (15 posts)

Living Up to a Legacy of Glass Pockets
November 5, 2015

(Deanna Lee is chief communications and digital strategies officer at Carnegie Corporation of New York.)

Deanna LeeWhat does a website redesign have to do with “glass pockets?” For Carnegie Corporation of New York—whose mission is to promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding—it goes far beyond a general use of the Internet to transmit information. “Glass pockets” is a defining principle of who we are, and thus a defining principle that has guided our entire web redesign process.

First, some background. In the 1950s,  Carnegie Corporation chair Russell Leffingwell testified before Congress that “foundation[s] should have glass pockets,” allowing anyone to easily look inside them and understand their value to society.  A legacy of transparency connected to dissemination continued through Corporation president John Gardner, who advocated for energetic dissemination of activities, to current president Vartan Gregorian, who has emphasized our “legacy of glass pockets” as an ideal and a guidepost for “communicating as clearly and in as much depth as possible how the Corporation conceives of its mission.”

Today’s digital landscape means that we can realize this—reaching and engaging more people, with more information about what we do—as never before. We think of web channels, tools, and design, not as new, “disruptive” technologies, but rather as evolving (and exciting!) opportunities to realize a 100-plus year-old mission.

And so, the redesign process for Carnegie.org began with a largely internal branding exercise to further define our longstanding mission. With the great folks at Story Worldwide, we articulated a core narrative with “pillars” or key principles, including a sense of stewardship to the legacy of Andrew Carnegie, a focus on expert knowledge, a “selfless” emphasis on program grantees and their work, and a commitment to serving as a convener of grantees in like areas of knowledge, and of knowledge-based communities.  These organizational principles were central to how design firm Blenderbox went on to imagine and develop the website layout and user experience.

At the same time, we conducted surveys and interviews with multiple stakeholders and audiences about the old site. As Chris Cardona of the Ford Foundation has written on the Glasspockets blog, we have to be open to failure, and be willing to look at what works and what doesn’t.  Also important, as emphasized in Glasspockets’ transparency indicators, is sharing the results.

What wasn’t working? People said they did not have a clear sense of our program areas.  With information and stories ranging from international peace and security to voting rights to standards in K-16 education all “mixed together,” they found it difficult to delve into their areas of interest.  Also, grantees wanted to be able to connect with peers, and to learn about each other’s activities.

This is why the new Carnegie.org immediately presents a clear depiction of our core program areas (arranged, in homage to Andrew Carnegie, like library book spines). 

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Each program folds out into a preview of a mini-site, with separate subdomains or “hubs” for Education…Democracy…International Peace and Security…and Higher Education and Research in Africa. 

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Enter a program hub, and a simple layout shows the overarching goal of the program and its focus areas (or, in terms of Glasspockets indicators, grantmaking priorities).

Beyond that, each program boasts its own flavor and kinds of content that emphasize those mission pillars—expert knowledge, convening, an emphasis on grantees, and stewardship of our history:

3-600pxInternational Peace and Security currently features commentary on this policy question of the day: Should the U.S. cooperate with Russia on Syria and ISIS? Answers are “convened” as a compendium of multiple grantee experts, scholars, and policymakers—a forum bringing together leading worldwide thinkers and opinions. 

Education features an interactive, multimedia presentation (we call it a Fable) on STEM education—showcasing our historical work on math and science education, including Carnegie Commission reports that set the framework for today’s Next Generation Science Standards, and visual case studies of grantees like Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.

Democracy’s Fable takes an extensive look at the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. Plus, at a time when nearly one in four Americans is not registered to vote, we wanted to convene communities and engage the public with our grantees’ work.

4-600px“Your Vote—Your Voice” showcases tiles of leaders of the New Americans Campaign weighing in on why it's important for recently naturalized citizens to vote. 

Good digital strategy also employs community, in the form of partnerships. We’re pleased to have worked with TINT to convene live social media compilations, including the feeds of more than 40 partners of National Voter Registration Day. And, a Genius version of the Voting Rights Act allows for annotations by experts at the Brennan Center for Justice and others.

Finally, we at the Corporation are, first and foremost, stewards of Andrew Carnegie’s legacy. Nearly 10 percent of visitors to our old site came for biographical information about him. To meet their needs more fully and to meet our mission, our Andrew Carnegie Fable includes embeddable elements key for students preparing multimedia presentations, with timelines, quotations, audio and film of Carnegie, infographics on his wealth, and connections to our family of 26 Carnegie institutions worldwide.

This is just the beginning. We’ll soon unveil features allowing program officers to share their experiences, video forums, and more.  It all comes down to glass pockets—using information and the presentation of information to openly share how we meet our mission responsibilities of serving as convener and champion of expert knowledge and change-making grantees. Carnegie.org aims to clearly present our intent, our priorities, and our work, and most of all to be a living—and evolving—expression of our mission to advance and diffuse knowledge and understanding.

--Deanna Lee

Boosting Transparency Through Podcasting at RWJF
March 11, 2014

Lori Melichar is a team director at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as well as a labor economist. You can follow her on Twitter at @lorimelichar.

Listen to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneering Ideas podcast:

Lori-melichar-rwjf-150x150My day job involves finding and supporting innovations with the power to accelerate the development of a culture of health in this country. This means finding ways not only to continually expose myself to new ideas but also to clearly communicate the kinds of ideas that my employer, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), seeks to fund. Lately, I’m finding that on both counts, podcasting is one of my favorite tools.

I listen to podcasts during my daily run—newsy ones from NPR, political gabfests, cultural explorations. Sometimes I listen to TED Talks or stories from The Moth. Most of the time I listen to WTF, a podcast where Marc Maron interviews other comedians like himself.

A podcast invites a unique type of conversation-based storytelling, one that we hope will stimulate real-world conversation about applying innovation to create a culture of health—and generate some ideas we’ll be dying to fund.

Though most of the podcasts I listen to are, on the surface of things, unrelated to philanthropy, let alone health or health care, I can’t tell you the number of times that something I’ve heard in a podcast has stimulated an idea related to my work. Sometimes I have to stop running to jot down a thought, fact or idea. Sometimes a nugget from a podcast festers in my mind throughout my run and ends up somewhere completely different by the end.

I believe in the power of the podcast medium to reach individuals where it matters: between the ears. Which is why I’m thrilled to be taking the reins as the host of RWJF’s podcast, Pioneering Ideas. We launched the podcast last year and our third episode debuted earlier today (you can listen to it above).

Our goal with Pioneering Ideas is to be more transparent about the way we work and the kinds of ideas we seek to fund—and to do so in a way that’s engaging for others who are interested in exploring cutting edge ideas and emerging trends that can transform health and health care. Sometimes that means talking to program officers, grantees and others in the RWJF network; other times it means having conversations with pioneering thinkers with no formal relationship to the Foundation.

In our latest episode, for example, I interview Barry Schwartz, a former professor of mine and author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, about how his work on the science of decision-making might apply to health and health care. Another guest on this episode, Sheena Iyengar, author of The Art of Choosing, recently visited RWJF as part of our What’s Next Health: Conversations with Pioneers series, and graciously agreed to spend some extra time with us talking for the podcast.

Of course, our podcast isn’t the only vehicle we have for lifting the curtain on our strategy for exploring and funding cutting edge ideas—we are active across a range of social media, and are always adding and exploring new approaches. But a podcast invites a unique type of conversation-based storytelling, one that we hope will stimulate real-world conversation about applying innovation to create a culture of health—and generate some ideas we’ll be dying to fund.

We’ve been conservative in our promotion efforts so far as we find our legs with this new venture. Just over 250 people listened to our second episode—hardly a landslide, but a very respectable showing for this type of podcast. We’ve been learning a lot behind the scenes, and the feedback we’re receiving is encouraging. A variety of thought leaders in health innovation have shared the podcast with their networks, and we're hopeful that the podcast will ultimately encourage people to tell us about their ideas for health and health care. Our goal is to increase the number of listens by 20 percent with every episode we release and build a high-quality audience that excitedly awaits each episode—just as I await new episodes of WTF every Monday and Thursday morning.

I’d love to know what you think—not just about our podcast (which you can listen to at the top of this post), but about using podcasts to support idea-sourcing and to cultivate conversations that can inform a nonprofit’s efforts at creating social change. Any examples of podcasts that you think do a superlative job of communicating an organization’s interests in a stimulating and entertaining way?

On this morning’s run, I heard Marc Maron say that a philosophy teacher once told him there are two ways to fill your mind: One is to put new stuff in there, and the other is to heat up whatever’s in there so that it expands.

I hope Pioneering Ideas fills your mind.

And if you’ve got any audacious ideas for creating a culture of health in this country, I’d love to hear them. Find me on Twitter at @lorimelichar or email me at lmelichar [at] rwjf.org.

-- Lori Melichar

Glasspockets Find: The Annual Conference Goes Digital
May 23, 2012

COF annual conference 2012
The explosion of social media is having a multiplier effect on the reach of the traditional annual conference.  Long gone are the days when only those lucky enough to travel to the host city were able to attend a few sessions, network with peers, and grab as many handouts as possible to share with the folks back home.  With today’s social media, everyone in attendance can be a virtual fly on the wall, able to connect with everyone on the outside—in real-time—via text, audio and video.  A new window—transparency—is coming of age, bringing with it the potential for increased participation.

As a case in point, take the 2012 Annual Conference of the Council on Foundations that concluded in Los Angeles earlier this month.  Here are some of the topics of discussion that have emerged which you can explore, or even add to the dialogue:

A rich media archive of tweets, blogs, recordings, and images is now available, opening up new possibilities for more and more people to learn and interact than ever before.  As one of two Strategic Partners for the 2012 conference, The James Irvine Foundation asked three of its grantees who participated in panel discussions to share some of their thoughts.  It’s yet another example of our world becoming ever more transparent, with multiple points of entry.

-- Mark Foley

Another Way of Thinking about Accountability
October 25, 2011

(Michael Remaley is the director of Public Policy Communicators NYC and president of HAMILL REMALEY breakthrough communications. In a previous post for Transparency Talk, he wrote about identifying transparency benchmarks in foundation communications.)

More and more philanthropic professionals are accepting the idea that their organizations should be transparent and, in part because those who founded the organization took major tax benefits when it was established, have some accountability to the public. Many of our field's big thinkers are making a compelling case that public accountability in philanthropy should be a core value in our work. But when it comes to accountability, what if foundations and the public are talking about entirely different things?

New research from Public Agenda and the Kettering Foundation presents evidence that the public and leaders across many sectors hold strikingly different ideas about what it means to be accountable. The report, "Don't Count Us Out: How an Overreliance on Accountability Could Undermine the Public's Confidence in Schools, Business, Government and More," is based on new public opinion research. It outlines the key dimensions of accountability as the public defines it and contrasts the public's perspective with prevailing leadership views. Although it isn't mentioned in the subtitle, the report explores the ramifications for foundations, too.

For philanthropic professionals, the implications are significant – both for their foundations and the institutions they support. There are several pros and cons in the research for those foundations already committed to transparency and accountability. For those foundations on the fence about accountability, the research reinforces the fact that the public expects institutions to be accountable, but raises questions about just what that means. 

There are several key points from the research that philanthropic professionals will want to consider:

Accountability requires ethics.

For foundations, the biggest "pro" in this research is that the public sees accountability first as a dimension of ethics and responsibility.  Foundations – especially those with an orientation toward accountability and transparency – will likely fair well with the public in this regard. On the "con" side, many leaders who see accountability measures as the principal way to ensure that their institutions meet their obligations to the public may be putting too much faith in how much the public values the setting of benchmarks, collecting data, measuring performance, disclosing information, and organizing system-wide reforms. Those mechanisms, while often valuable as management tools, fall far short of relieving the public's most potent concerns, especially their fears about an ethical decline in our society. Foundations that demonstrate they are acting responsibly and ethically will be thought by the public to be accountable more than those that simply talk about benchmarks.

More information does not equal more trust.

Typically, people know almost nothing about specific measures, and they rarely see them as clear-cut evidence of effectiveness. Many Americans are deeply skeptical about the accuracy and importance of quantitative measures. Most are suspicious of the ways in which numbers can be manipulated or tell only half the story. So on the "pro" side, this research is good news for those foundations that have become adept at getting their message out with personal stories of those affected by their programs. For those that are still trying to talk about their impact with lists of grants made and lots of data, the "cons" in this research may be quite jarring. Many members of the public feel confused and overwhelmed by the detailed information flying past them in the name of "disclosure" and "transparency." Many fear they are being manipulated by the complex presentations. More and more statistics do not reassure, so in fact, more information can actually lead to less public trust. It's not that they don't want accountability and information from foundations, but a whole lot of data (without any qualitative context) isn't reassuring to them.

Responsiveness is just as important as benchmarks.

For the public, being able to reach someone who listens to you and treats your ideas and questions respectfully is a fundamental dimension of accountability. This may be the biggest challenge for foundations in this research, since even the most transparent rarely open the door more than a crack to let the general public in to give feedback on the funding programs aimed at them. For most people, not being able to talk to someone is a signal that the institution doesn't genuinely care about those they serve. Foundations are particularly opaque to the public. The message is clear for those in philanthropy and other sectors who may fear being besieged by community input: the public wants a better balance and authentic mechanisms that allow them to be heard. On the "pro" side, those foundations that do seek community input and can demonstrate they are listening will likely be afforded a great deal of public trust. Foundations that rate well on the Foundation Center's Glasspockets measures of transparency, especially those dealing with grantee surveys and grantee feedback, can probably feel some relief that they will likely be considered accountable in the public's eyes.

The public expects to be held accountable, too.

For most Americans, the return to real accountability is not the job of leaders alone. Time and again, people in focus groups spoke about their own responsibilities and the near impossibility of solving problems without a broad base of responsibility at every level of society. Many foundations already get this. Institutions that embrace the idea of a public role in fostering institutional accountability must think creatively and proactively about how typical citizens can contribute their knowledge and actions to fulfill the organization's mission. The report emphasizes that giving people more and more information or giving them more and more choices without truly considering public priorities and concerns is likely to backfire.

The "Don't Count Us Out" report is getting a lot of attention in policy circles. The Washington Post's education columnist Jay Mathews said, "Its message is vital. Accountability is a key word in our national debate… The Public Agenda/Kettering report may have exposed the greatest obstacle to getting our kids the educations they deserve." And The Nonprofit Quarterly said, "The authors suggest that there is one other area that needs equal attention: philanthropy, which they say has 'fewer true accountability mechanisms than any other field.' However, there is one dimension of accountability in which philanthropy may be the strongest: the 'publicly stated moral convictions of its leaders.' How to measure that will, perhaps, be the biggest challenge of all."

For foundation professionals involved in communicating the results of their organizations' work, the first thing to recognize is simply the different orientation of your audience. The second is to understand that people expect more than just statistics and analyses of results to feel that the foundation is indeed accountable. Many foundations are hesitant to allow outsiders to even have easy e-mail access to staff (another Glasspockets transparency measure). So allowing the public to give feedback on the programs that are directed at them may seem like a radical idea to some. Many foundations are already doing grantee surveys and allowing public commentary on their blogs. These are likely to go a long way in engendering trust with the public.

Many foundations have already realized that telling stories is a more effective means of communicating with people than rolling off statistics and spewing facts. When it comes to demonstrating our foundations' accountability, it may be time to consider the idea that bringing the public into the process is as important as enumerating outcomes.

-- Michael Remaley

Glasspockets Find: Giving Voice to Your Grantmaking
August 2, 2011

The Haas, Jr. FundThe Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund recently introduced First-Person Stories, an online feature of first-hand accounts by individuals whose lives are impacted by the work supported by the foundation. As the foundation explains, "We seldom have the opportunity to understand who they are, where they are from, and what they are capable of contributing to our communities and society." In this way, storytelling becomes a vehicle for transparency: the Haas, Jr. Fund uses First-Person Stories to communicate which communities it serves, the social impact of its grants, and the core values of its foundation.

To begin to collect its narratives, the Haas, Jr. Fund collaborated with Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Dave Eggers and his nonprofit organization, Voice of Witness, which uses oral history to empower those most affected by contemporary social injustice. Eggers and his staff believe there is a "limitless learning potential in increasing one’s capacity to listen without judgment."

First-Person Stories showcases the human side of the Haas, Jr. Fund’s work, gives voice to its grantmaking and its grantees, and makes the foundation’s mission more accessible and easily understood.

Which other grantmakers are using storytelling to reveal and enhance the social impact of their efforts--while also being more transparent?

-- Mark Foley

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  • Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Foundation Center highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

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