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Transparency trickle-down: Tips for demonstrating openness at all levels


Transparency trickle-down: Tips for demonstrating openness at all levels

Nearly 150 years after Abraham Lincoln eloquently declared the United States to be a government “of the people, by the people and for the people” in his Gettysburg address, those words are taking on new meaning. Cries for transparency are bubbling up from bloggers and trickling down from federal agencies more and more each day.

From local government blogs and RSS feeds to NASA’s Twitter account and Recovery.gov’s online data sets, government agencies are responding, using a new class of technology tools to put a face on their work, seek citizen input and build stakeholder trust.

Nevertheless, true transparency is about more than tools; it’s a mantra for operations. How can you encourage greater transparency in your organization?  Researchers Jenille Fairbanks, Kenneth D. Plowman and Brad L. Rawlins have studied transparency in government. They say there are three keys to transparency among government organizations.

1. Communication practices

Want to be known for your transparent approach? Share information openly, honestly and regularly. Update key stakeholder groups on issues of interest. Take advantage of the multitude of communications channels to get your message out – from traditional media relations to your organization’s website, e-mail updates to constituents, RSS feeds, a Twitter stream and more.

Promote your communications activities in print and online. For example, if you work in a local government agency that provides updates via Twitter, add your organization’s Twitter handle to Mouse Pad Coasters and distribute them at community events or Tweet-ups (local meetings of Twitter users). If your organization will be accepting feedback on a plan or proposal through its website, print participation deadlines on Business Card Magnets with Notepads and distribute them in notification mailings.

2. Organizational support

In order to be hailed for transparent practices, it is important that administrators demonstrate a top-down commitment to transparency. Whether you employ an official communications officer or assign another staff member to ask hard questions and encourage broad-based information sharing, transparency advocates within your organization are most helpful when they have a seat at the decision-making table.

Make discussions about sharing information a regular part of your agenda. Focus efforts by distributing All-in-one Mini Notebooks to staff members and asking them to spend time during regular meetings taking notes about information that can be shared with the public. Communications officers (or other staff members) can use these notes to develop news releases, web copy, e-mail updates, etc.

3. Provision of resources

Sharing information and gathering feedback takes time, staff and resources. Though it may be tempting for elected and appointed officials to add all communications responsibilities to existing staff duties, doing so will likely hinder the program’s success. If open communications are important to your organization, identify how you will ensure information gets out the door.

  • Who will communicate? When?
  • How will they get needed information?
  • How will they have time to do so?
  • What resources will they need to be successful?

The good news is that many communications channels available are low-cost, but they do require staff time. Make transparency a priority by identifying the resources needed to successfully build a communications program that not only disseminates information but also engages stakeholders in decision-making.

4. Pulling it all together

With solid communications practices, a supportive structure and adequate resources in place, you’ll be able to establish the value of open and honest communication in your organization and bring the transparency mantra to life. Speaking of “mantra,” consider sealing the deal by imprinting your agency’s transparency slogan, motto or value onto Clear Glass Mugs or Clear-view Drawstring Bags and handing them out to all employees. What a great way to keep your message top-of-mind internally, while simultaneously boosting awareness with external constituents!

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