• Transparency

last modified July 27, 2011 by tomlowenhaupt

Our policies on transparency and openness are presented and discussed here.


Curtains & Transparency

   voting-booth.JPG

 (Commons photo courtesy of brookelynn.)

Wikipedia - Transparency, as as used in the humanities, implies openness, communication, and accountability. It is a metaphorical extension of the meaning used in the physical sciences: a "transparent" object is one that can be seen through.

When liberal democracies, like USA or Norway, are developing their democracy one step further, transparency is introduced as a means of holding public officials accountable and fighting corruption. When government meetings are open to the press and the public, when budgets and financial statements may be reviewed by anyone, when laws, rules and decisions are open to discussion, they are seen as transparent and there is less opportunity for the authorities to abuse the system in their own interest.

Transparency cannot exist as a purely one-way communication though. If the media and the public knows everything that happens in all authorities and county administrations there will be a lot of questions, protests and suggestions coming from media and the public. People who are interested in a certain issue will try to influence the decisions. Transparency creates an everyday participation in the political processes by media and the public.

Modern democracy builds on such participation of the people and media. There are, for anybody who is interested, many ways to influence the decisions at all levels in society.

The elections and referendums are no longer the prime or only way for the people to rule itself. The democracy is working continuously, and the elections are there just to make major changes in the political course.

While a liberal democracy can be a plutocracy, where decisions are taken behind locked doors and the people have very small possibilities to influence the politics between the elections, a participative democracy is much closer connected to the will of the people.

Connecting.nyc Inc. prides itself on operating in an open and transparent manner. From it's nascent days it has existed on a wiki, available for all to see and contribute to its development. We selected the wiki form to provide a mechanism for public engagement and a model for city TLD development, aware that the world's eyes are always on New York City.

Being wiki based has its difficulties, especially in a time when the technology's role is not fully understood. Occasionally a newbie comes across a stub page and makes a negative judgment on our overall operation. But the engagement and transparency the wiki allows outweighs the occasional embarrassment.

We discovered early on that the 100% transparency we sought was not practicable. For example, as of January 2009 we chose opaqueness in areas of board membership selection and finance. And we expect the personnel files of employed and contracted staff will have confidential elements (e.g., health information). Here's why.

With a board of directors of high integrity and capability vital to our success, we've found a private board member recruitment space essential. When we issued a call for member recommendations, many names were suggested, some of which are familiar to the typical New Yorker. If we published them on our website, we would be opening up prospective board members to questioning as to their acceptance or rejection of a position, perhaps even before we've had an opportunity to offer it.

Imagine the reporter's phone call, "Mr. Big, it says on Connecting.nyc's site that you've been offered a position on its board.Will you be accepting it?" If we've not first had the opportunity to present our mission and goals, the likely answer would be, "Never heard of it. No."

Perhaps worse, what if we decide against offering someone a seat? "Ms. Big, Connecting.nyc had you listed as a possible board member, why didn't you accept the offer?" Embarrassed, Ms. Big frowns on Connecting.nyc.

The dynamics are quite similar with finance and grants organizations.

An area where we are currently developing transparency policy is with our board agendas and meetings: "What's public and when?" And beyond our internal transparency concerns and policies, the broader impact of technology on privacy and transparency in societal relationships is becoming an increasingly important topic.

  • What role does the curtain on the voting booth provide?
  • How can we encourage the adoption of technology and customs that balance transparency and privacy needs?
  • How do we code for privacy?
  • For transparency?
  • How do we decide the proper balance?

Everyone's thoughts are welcomed.

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