Transparency Talk

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The Wiki Workplace and a Network Mindset - Part 1
September 26, 2011

Diana Scearce (Diana Scearce is a senior consultant with the Monitor Institute where she works primarily with networks and multi-stakeholder groups. Her work combines strategy, facilitation, research, scenario thinking, and learning design. She has written multiple articles and reports on effectively leveraging networks, including the forthcoming "Catalyzing Networks for Social Change: A Funder's Guide" (GEO, October 2011).

There is new opportunity for funders to increase their impact by working with a "network mindset"—a way of exercising leadership that values connectedness, shared ownership, and openness. I have explored what working with a network mindset means in practice through my work with a learning community for funders who are pioneering the next best practices for harnessing the power of networks. An important part of working with a network mindset, we've learned, is working transparently by the ongoing sharing of insights and activities, not just a final report packaged for public consumption.

One of the learning community participants, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, is experimenting with working transparently with its "see-through filing cabinet"—a wiki through which the foundation's Organizational Effectiveness (OE) team shares resources (like helpful capacity building tools and articles), insights from across its grantmaking, research in progress, and even internal documents, like their theory of change and social media guidelines.

Now a year into the experiment, the foundation is finding that transparency holds them to a "higher level of accountability, quality, learning, and vulnerability." And, as Paul Connolly wrote about in a recent Glasspockets post, through the simple goal of working transparently, the Packard Foundation is opening up to new inputs and starting to more actively seek engagement from its growing community of advisers and fellow capacity builders.

I recently had a conversation with Stephanie McAuliffe and Kathy Reich, the masterminds behind the see-through filing cabinet, about their experiences with the wiki and prioritizing transparency in their work. Here are the highlights:

How did the idea for a 'see-through filing cabinet' come about?

SM: I was tired of hearing people say, "Foundations aren't transparent." I asked myself, what could I share that others would want to see? So we created the OE wiki as an experiment in working transparently.

The foundation management was remarkably open-minded from the start and continues to take pride in it.

What have been the effects of working transparently?

KR: I feel empowered to be able to talk candidly about the work—all of its flaws and not just everything that is working well. It has made me a better listener and more open-minded.

Program officers are hired to be content experts. I [used to] feel a lot of pressure to always be an expert in the room. Now I feel more comfortable saying "I don't know." The more that I'm open to saying I don't have all the answers, the more people seem to respect and value what I have to say.

What has been the impact of the wiki experiment on how others at the Packard Foundation, outside the OE program, are working?

SM: People have taken notice that nothing bad has happened. You can do your work out in the open; you can connect with your trusted peers and accomplish a professional interchange.

What about the impact on your relationships with the communities who are looking at and using the wiki?

SM: To me, the wiki is a practical tool: it's a place to put stuff that's handy for people to see.

KR: The actual presence of the wiki hasn't changed the way people relate to us. It's the fact that we talk about it, we can follow up with a wealth of information, and we're asking for an open exchange.

You started with a focus on transparency and now you're experimenting with engagement through the Goldmine Research Project, what might be next for the wiki?

SM: I think it'll morph as we find other uses for it.  For example, we've started to use it for sign ups for our peer learning groups. We've used it to host RFPs. But even with this evolution, we will continue our commitment to making resources available to the broader public.

How much time to do you spend on the wiki?

SM: I can't think of it as it taking time, because it's a utility. I think ultimately I save time. For the people who do the yeoman's job to put the content up, it takes time.

What words of advice would you offer to other funders embarking on similar experiments in transparency?

SM: Be clear about your audiences. Have fun. Don't be afraid to fail.

KR: Be clear about purpose, but don't over plan. Jump in. Start small and scale up rather than thinking you have to have something perfect and baked from the outset.

Clay Shirky writes, "Communications tools don't get socially interesting until they get technologically boring." In the process of integrating the wiki into their everyday work, the OE team at Packard is making transparency their default. Wiki work is becoming second nature – almost boring. It's beginning to transform their own work and leadership habits and it has the potential to influence the many communities they're a part of.

How are you working transparently? What is making your experiment worthwhile  –  or not?

In Part II of "The Wiki Workplace," we'll hear from another member of Packard's OE team, Jeff Jackson, about assessing what has worked with their experiment in working transparently.

-- Diana Scearce

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This is an incredibly impressive array of transparency tools from Packard. The reflections on how a new way of working becomes routine are a useful antidote to the most common reason for not engaging more in transparency practices (too much extra work). It also occurs to me that this kind of transparency is very useful to grantseekers, to the extent that it gives a real window into how a foundation really thinks as opposed to traditional communications messages.

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About Transparency Talk

  • 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."

    The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation Center.

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