Transparency & Community Engagement: Part 2

SunflowersYesterday’s post originally ran 2 years ago. The comments following both the original post and its re-run yesterday talked about a hesitancy to be transparent, the desire to keep organizational issues in the “back yard” where no one would see them.

I can understand that. Building the Community-Driven Institute, Dimitri and I often wonder how much to share.  After all, we are supposed to be the smart ones, the teachers. We are the ones who developed the approaches we teach. I’m the one who wrote the book about making visionary change practical.  If we are honest and transparent in sharing our concerns, won’t people wonder, “Gee – I thought they were the experts!”

When these issues arise in our Consultants Immersion Course, we teach folks to set aside their own brilliance and instead engage the wisdom in their clients. Throughout the week, consultants who are used to being the smartest one in the room experience for themselves the powerful effects of trusting and nurturing the wisdom of others.

That core philosophy – that the result is more powerful when it is built by the collective wisdom of everyone involved – is at the heart of every step we are taking to build the Community-Driven Institute.  New aspects of the curriculum are being developed by graduates of our existing courses. Critical infrastructure issues are also being addressed by tapping on the wisdom in the room.

Even so, we were not at all prepared for the delightful surprise we experienced last month.   Under the tree

Building the Institute
In building the Institute, we are wrestling with the same questions faced by any other new organization – building a board, creating policies and bylaws, and a million other issues lined up behind those.  As we shared those issues with our advisors last month, several of them suggested fiscal sponsorship – an interim step that would allow us to postpone many of the decisions we faced.

Normally I’m a huge fan of the model – heck, we built two diaper banks using fiscal sponsorship. We love the model enough to have devoted several pages of The Pollyanna Principles to the concept.  Still, when it came to the Institute, my gut said, “I don’t think this project is right for fiscal sponsorship.”

Talking it through, we realized we didn’t have to make that decision on our own. If trusting the wisdom in the room is good enough for our work with clients, it is certainly good enough for building the Institute itself!

And so that is what we did.  We “experts” in organizational effectiveness shared our question at Facebook, both in my stream and at the CDI’s Facebook Group.  I tweeted about it. I posted the question to the online community for our course graduates.

And the answers? Lists of pros and cons. Links to rich sites with tons of information about fiscal sponsorship.  Questions we had not considered, and suggested answers to those questions.

So what were the results? Here are the major ones:

  1. We got more information than a Google search could have found, because people were being encouraged to share more than just raw information – they were asked for their experience, their stories, their ideas, concerns, thoughts.
  2. We received offers to help us with whichever approach we chose.
  3. We generated conversation, stretching people’s brains to consider the issue from different angles.  From there, people learned and grew. Aren’t these the benefits of engagement in the first place?
  4. Most importantly, though, we showed that an organization can be transparent in making tough decisions that would normally be kept private – and that it’s ok.  Beyond ok, it’s way better!

zinniaNow when we meet again with our advisory group, we will have objective criteria against which to weigh our decision.  Which approach will provide the strategic positioning the Institute needs? Which approach will be more acceptable to funders of large international projects? Which will provide the fastest start-up / the least amount of start-up work? From the process of weighing “fiscal sponsorship” and “separate organization” against critical objective criteria, we are confident the best decision will simply arise on its own.

Then we can go back to the world, and share the end of the story.

That’s what transparency looks like in action. It is honest, authentic and more than anything, engaging.

Just like slinging compost and growing carrots in my front yard.

Part 3 of this series shares some observations about transparent community engagement. I hope you’ll share your own observations there!

Photo credit: Yessiree these are all from my yard!

3 thoughts on “Transparency & Community Engagement: Part 2”

  1. Having been a part of the process described in the post I can only say “WOW”! The depth of the conversation and everyone’s sincere desire to be a part of the change was exciting. Great model for all of us working to create change.

  2. I think your process goes far beyond transparency. It strikes me as an example of the best form of leadership. You gathered as much input as possible from an informed talent pool, carefully evaluated the information, asked for and received additional feedback, made a decision, and moved forward. I’m sure Peter Drucker is smiling. He made a living telling us that command and control from the top down expert isn’t very productive. I think you probably made his day!

  3. Nancy:
    You are part of it, and it is magical, isn’t it?!

    I am smiling as you consider Peter Drucker smiling. My smile comes from this little voice in my head that always laughs when I try to take control. The voice says, “Silly girl – you know there’s really no such thing as control!” So thank you for that!!



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