Mark Hammer

I think most would embrace more “transparency”, but I also think that there are many different definitions of what transparency means, depending on the stakeholder.

For instance, from the perspective of the public service user, “transparent” means that all the required steps, procedures, paperwork, or other requirements are presented clearly at the outset. Such an individual equates more transparency with less runaround.

From the perspective of the grumpy taxpayer, “transparency” often relates to how money is spent. For that individual transparency = fiscal accountability.

From the perspective of the voter, “transparency” = comprehensible policies.

From the perspective of the federal job applicant, “transparent” means they understand exactly how staffing is conducted, how and why they will be tested, how staffing decisions are made, and what happens next.

From the perspective of the federal employee, “transparent” may simply mean that the decisions of others are comprehensible enough to be anticipable (is that a word?). I.E., the way and basis of the decisions my management makes are sensible enough that I can adapt to them and carry out my own job responsibilities effectively and i concert with the organization’s broader plans.

In general, transparent = predictable / coherent / plausible To a lesser extent, it also means timely. If one inquires why something happened, and no reply comes back for months, even the most exhaustive reply is likely to leave one thinking that there may be some information being withheld. So let’s also say that transparent = perceptibly honest, with all the behavioural trappings thereof, like timeliness.

Whatever the case, or stakeholder perspective, transparency does NOT mean inundating the stakeholder with mountains of unexplained quantitative information. That is, transparency does not equal what I like to call “accountabalism”: the cult of measuring anything and everything, regardless of precision or validity.

The late Larry Terry, in his book “Leadership of Public Bureaucracies: The Administrator as Conservator”, makes the case for public institutions and their leaders doing what is needed to stay true to their mission and mandate. He makes a very persuasive case that the authorities of a public institution, under law, may not be quite as important as its authoritativeness. That is, its perception by the public and other government stakeholders as the place/people/institution where sound judgment and perspective reside regarding certain matters. The willingness to offer one’s buy-in to that public institution’s actvities is not only a function of the historical consistency of their activities and thinking, but the extent to which you trust them. I would argue that staying true to one’s mission, being mindful of it, and reminding stakeholders of it as well, is part of what makes a public institution, and whatever policies, programs, or activities emerge from it, “transparent” to people. It is what lets the citizen and public servant think to themselves “I know how these folks think, what their motives are, what they take into account, and what their track record is, and on that basis, I expect and accept that policy/procedure/outcome X is authentically in the public interest and in my interest.”. In that sense, “transparency” is the obvious connection between the particulars and the higher order motives and principles underlying the particulars.

Case in point. When you assess a job candidate using some behavioural method, they often want more feedback than you can give them. They may treat the lack of thorough feedback as unfair, largely because they think from their own perspective, and feel your reluctance is impeding their improvement. When you remind them that it could be the case that they are taking that test for the first time, in competition with others who might have been through it before, and that any more extensive feedback to those people during a prior asessment would put THEM (the concerned candidate) at a clear disadvantage, they can begin to see that what might appear to be unfair to them in the narrow perspective, actually makes for a fairer system in the broader picture. That in fact what initially feels like something targetting them is really something intended to protect them and their right to a level playing field. The particulars get connected to the big picture and higher-order principles. Suddenly, the procedures become “transparent”.