One of the things I’ve been proud of during my time here at the IMA is the museum’s commitment to institutional transparency. It’s always just made sense to me to concentrate on doing the right thing first, and then sharing as much as possible with others. (See, Mom… I wasn’t tuning you out all those years) If you’ve followed this blog for very long, you’ve probably heard us talk about the IMA’s Dashboard a time or two. Well, it’s hard to believe, but the Dashboard turned two years old in October! I thought this would be a fitting time to spend a bit of time talking about the how’s and why’s of transparency and IMA’s experiences in running the Dashboard during that time.
I had originally authored this as a paper to be published in print form, but I think it will actually work better in a blog format like this one. I’ve really appreciated the feedback and input readers have contributed to my last few posts, and would love your thoughts on this text as well.
Perhaps the most prevalent concern shared by peers about adopting similar approaches to transparency is a latent fear of the unknown, or a feeling that sharing the gritty details with the public will be too overwhelming and therefore misconstrued. I’m happy to say that the wheels haven’t fallen off the IMA’s apple cart yet, hopefully this series will illuminate some of the benefits we’ve seen from taking these steps.
Walking the Talk – Part 1
The concept of Transparency has received significant attention in the media and online recently. This attention comes at a time when public doubt in corporations, government and corporate executives is at an all-time high. High profile failures of some of the nation’s largest and most trusted institutions have shaken our assumptions about what had always seemed to be untouchable industries. Museums have always jealously guarded their trusted place in the public’s perception, but is there a risk that this trust will someday be lost? As caretakers of this trust, what is the best way to foster open communication about the challenges and opportunities that face us as we try to achieve the mission of our museums? As comprehensive and easy access to operational information becomes the norm, how can museums embrace this as an opportunity and confront internal fears about sharing their performance metrics with the public?
A Working Definition of Transparency
To begin, we must first come to a common understanding about Transparency. Institutional Transparency is a concept that is notoriously difficult to define precisely. Principally, Transparency can be defined as the open sharing of information regarding a museum’s operations and performance. But questions soon arise regarding what to share, when to share, and how to share it. These issues are much more significant for museums to consider when crafting an organizational stance about Transparency.