Transparency is one of those things, like democracy, or marriage, that’s easier said than done. To say that a foundation will start “from a presumption of openness and full transparency,” as our president, Larry Kramer, did in his inaugural post for our blog, is one thing. Figuring out how to actually do it is quite another.
Even if we could simply flip a switch and turn the Foundation inside out, would that really be transparent? Without some kind of roadmap to the information shared, there’s a real risk that useful signals get lost in so much noise. And even when we are taking steps we feel are truly transparent—sharing the budget memos each program prepares for the Board in our annual reports, for example— when we don’t provide the context to help readers understand what they’re looking at, we reduce the value of what we’re providing, as Eric Brown, our communications director, has noted.
Once we identify information we believe we can and should share, there’s still the problem of working out a process for doing so. Our docket paragraphs are a case in point. These are the short descriptions that our program staff provide to the Board to describe the purpose, proposed activities and expected outcomes of each grant. We knew that the information in these paragraphs could be useful for grantseekers and others who want to understand our priorities and strategies. Nevertheless, their publication raised almost as many questions as they answered: Would we consult grantees before sharing? Who would be responsible for vetting each paragraph before it was made public to make sure it didn’t contain confidential information (about staffing changes at a grantee, for example) that would be inappropriate for us to share? And what changes would we need to make to our software, timelines, and procedures to facilitate this new form of transparency?
We answered some of these questions during a pilot project with our Global Development and Population program last November, and we’re in the process of answering others as we expand the pilot to include our other programs for next month’s Board meeting. None of the challenges we’ve identified are insurmountable, of course, but working through them requires care, thoughtfulness, and most of all, time.
A lot of transparency work is like that.
It’s good to know that there’s help available for foundations interested in becoming more transparent. The Foundation Center’s Glasspockets effort, in collaboration with GrantCraft, has just released a new guide called Opening Up: Demystifying Funder Transparency. The guide makes a compelling philosophical case for transparency and explains its benefits for foundations. But the guide’s real value lies in the great examples and practical steps it provides to help any foundation become more transparent, whatever their starting point.
The thing that resonated most for me in the guide, in fact, is the idea that transparency has no end point—and not just because of the job security that implies for the people working on it. There’s always something else that can be shared, an idea that could be explained more clearly, or a new strategy to be described.
The Hewlett Foundation has been committed to transparency for a long time, and we’re proud of the fact that our Glasspockets profile has every item checked off. But that doesn’t mean we’re finished with transparency. In fact, we’ve got a number of projects we’re still working through, and we’ll use our blog to highlight them when they’re ready. Even then, we won’t be done, and it’s good to know that this new guide will be there to help us figure out what comes next.
Neil Edgington interviews Senior Fellow Daniel Stid at the Social Velocity blog. Among the topics covered: performance management, the Foundation's potential democracy initiative, and measuring nonprofit outcomes.
Nice blog post from Rod Torrez, Director of HECHO (Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting and Outdoors), responding to a recent speech by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell:
In her speech, Secretary Jewell mentioned “iconic places” such as national parks. Western Latinos think about, and value, those places too. However, we also think about the little creeksides where the curanderas collect osha roots; we also think about the small aspen groves where the dendroglyphs can still by found, carved by sheepherders long ago. I personally think about an ancient alligator juniper in Arizona, worn smooth on one side by the strong back of my grandfather, who sat there, waiting for the deer to come.
The values that western Latinos have passed from generation to generation have lessons that can help inform the Interior Department about decisions on how public lands should be managed.
The Center for Western Priorities, a grantee of our Environment program, recently published a list of eight stories “guaranteed to impact those of use living in the West” this year. Among the stories they highlight are a renewed debate over exporting oil and natural gas, the possible renewal of the Land and Water Conservation Fund in Congress, and the ongoing effects of drought across the Western United States.
No one knows why Jim Boyd was locked up in the Texas Penitentiary back in 1934. What is known is that he had a fine tenor voice and a talent for clapping out a rhythm as nimbly as if the guards had let him have a guitar.
Care to hear him?
Music professors at Holy Names University in Oakland have transcribed hundreds of rare folk songs on a website - including 63 with recordings of regular people, like Boyd - that will transport you from the 21st century into the midst of a children's chanting game in Mississippi, 1939. Or to Virginia in 1935 as J.M. Hunt croons a sea shanty. Or behind bars with Boyd and his rendition of "This Little Light of Mine," sung at a faster clip than anyone does it today.
“Genuine folk music has been handed down from parents to children, through generations, and it changes, and each time it changes and might develop something deeper, some deeper meaning. It’s a very different thing than someone writing a folk song and recording it and having it be this one thing that never changes,” [ Kodály Center Director Anne] Laskey says.
“Mary Has a Red Bird” is good example of this oral history. A father and daughter in Texas sang this recording 75 years ago:
“This was a song sung to the babies way back in the cotton fields of slavery back down in about 1845,” Henry Truvillion explains to the archivist after singing the song. Then he names the generations who sang this melody to their children, and eventually, to him.
The typical starting point for action to promote social mobility is helping children achieve their potential through early interventions such as home visiting programs and preschool. Imagine if we began instead by asking: what can we do to ensure that every child is a planned, wanted, and welcomed child?
But let’s not kid ourselves: The law, such as it is, ran out of guidance or anything resembling an incontrovertible answer long before any of the justices reached their result in these [“momentous”] cases. What determined the outcome in all of them was nothing more and nothing less than how far one believes we have come as a society on questions involving race and sexual orientation. Of course, this is true for all the court’s momentous decisions (which is why they end up in the Supreme Court in the first place).
But maybe we should ask ourselves: Why on earth would we entrust such judgments, affecting the whole of society, to five people on a court whose members are made as unaccountable as possible and who sit on the bench for life, rather like monarchs?
President Obama recently recognized the accomplishments of Estiven Rodriguez, a senior at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS) in New York City, which is part of the Foundation's Deeper Learning Network. Estiven, who could not speak English when he moved to the United States from the Dominican Republic at age nine, will attend Dickinson College on a competitve scholarship in the fall.
Estiven will attend the State of the Union Address tonight as a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama.
Thoughtful article at Foreign Affairs from George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace about the negotiations over Iran's nuclear program. He argues that their focus should be on ending Iran’s capacity to build a nuclear weapon quickly, not on politics or ending its enrichment capacity.
Annie Lowery, writing in the New York Times about interesting new research on how media influences teens' reproductive health decisions:
A new economic study of Nielsen television ratings and birth records suggests that the show she appeared in, “16 and Pregnant,” and its spinoffs may have prevented more than 20,000 births to teenage mothers in 2010.
The paper, to be released Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research, makes the case that the controversial but popular programs reduced the teenage birthrate by nearly 6 percent, contributing to a long-term decline that accelerated during the recession.
“It’s thrilling,” said Sarah S. Brown, the chief executive of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, a nonprofit group in Washington. “People just don’t understand how influential media is in the lives of young people.”