transparency you can't have trust.
And without trust, you can't govern.
by Katie Delahaye Paine
This article came about because I was at the Open Government and Innovations Conference last week, giving a talk about measuring social media. Turns out what people really wanted to know was: "How do you measure transparency and open government?"
There is undeniable pressure in Washington these days to be both transparent and deeply immersed in social media. The problem is that there are also 150 years of political culture that says, "Knowledge is power, keep your mouth shut, and whatever you do, stay away from the media."
After eight years of an administration that was cloaked in secrecy and proved itself at every turn to be pretty untrustworthy, it's not surprising that you could find a Twitterer in every corridor at OGI. Most of the conversations revolved around how to be open and transparent when all the systems block you from doing just that. (Note that just last week the White House -- yes, the current White House -- has blocked access to Twitter.)
But humans will be humans. My favorite quote was from one of the few women who can look chic as hell in camouflage:
L to R: Christina Sukach, Chief of Emerging Technology for the U.S. Air Force, and Katie Paine (photo: Debbie Weil)
Christina Sukach, Chief of Emerging Technology for the U.S. Air Force, explained the military's wholehearted embrace of social media this way: "For years we've had to rely on the media to tell the story. Now we can get the message out and tell our own stories."
Trust, transparency and relationships
Let me say first off that I can't give you a comprehensive program to measure open government. But I will show you how to use a survey to measure trust and transparency, which is the essential starting point.
First some background. The basic concept here is that organizational transparency leads to greater trust in the organization, which results in improved organizational efficiency and lower costs of doing business. For more on this chain of causation, read the introduction to the chapter "Measuring Trust and Mistrust" in my book Measuring Pubic Relationships.
In that book chapter, I show how to measure trust using the Grunig relationship survey. Another way to measure trust is by way of its close connection to transparency. And since transparency is a hallmark of open government, measuring transparency is an essential start to measuring open government.
The truth is, without transparency you can't have trust. And without trust, you can't govern.
Measuring trust and transparency: The work of Brad Rawlins.
Research by Dr. Brad Rawlins of Brigham Young University has demonstrated that the more transparent people perceive an organization to be, the more likely they are to trust the organization. (Proceedings of the 11th Annual International Public Relations Research Conference, 2008) And the more the organization provides honest, open, and occasionally vulnerable communications, the more people trust the institution.
"Organizations that encourage and allow public participation, share substantial information so their publics can make informed decisions, give balanced reports that hold them accountable, and open themselves up to public scrutiny, are more likely to be trusted."
Amazingly, the ability to be open and transparent was found to be more influential than competence in terms of willingness to trust. You can download a pdf of this research here. And you can read an article I wrote about the nuts and bolts of that research ("Trust and Transparency Go Hand In Hand") here.
Now you do the survey
So to measure the transparency of the government, or the Department of Defense, or even of your organization, you can conduct the same survey Brad Rawlins designed for his research. His questions are included in the pdf (just above), and also included at the end of this article.
The nuts and bolts of actually doing the survey we covered a couple months ago in an article entitled "Measuring Naked Relationships: Your step-by-step guide to using relationship metrics to evaluate the success of your social media program." Just adapt the nine-step survey directions given there to administer the survey to your employees or target audience -- but use the Rawlins questions instead of the Grunig questions.
Warning: Conducting surveys is a lot of work if you do them yourself. If you don't do it right (asking leading questions, or questions that don’t get you the data you need) you are going to waste a lot of effort. So, do your homework carefully before you start, and if in doubt, seek professional help.
So once you've tested your transparency and determine your score, what do you need to do about it?
Remember, the concept is that greater transparency leads to greater trust, which in turn leads to improved efficiency and lower costs. And, probably, more open governement. So you use the survey to see where you stand on transparency/trust, then you take some steps to improve.
To improve, take a hard look at the organization. Are you only disclosing what you have to disclose? Or what you want to disclose (greenwashing)? Or what you think sounds good (obfuscating through disclosure)? Or are you disclosing those things that maybe you don't want to disclose but it's the right thing to do? It's the latter strategy that will lead to increased trust.
You also need to look at your corporate or organizational culture. To what extent does it encourage participation in the transparency and disclosure process? Does it have a highly restrictive social media strategy or are employees encouraged to tell their stories? Have your stakeholders taken part in the formation of that policy? Do your stakeholders participate? Are they allowed to identify what they need to know, to ensure that the information shared is relevant and useful? Finally, are people held accountable when they are not transparent? And are they held accountable when being transparent reveals flaws?
So make some changes, then survey again after six months or a year and see if there is any improvement.
Good luck, and let me know how things go.
Survey Questions to Measure Transparency and Trust from Brad Rawlins
Statements using 7-point scale between Strongly Disagree and Strongly Agree.
1. I’m willing to let the organization make decisions for people like me.
2. I think it is important to watch this organization closely so that it does not take advantage of people like me.
3. I trust the organization to take care of people like me.
Organization shows competence
4. I feel very confident about the skills of this organization.
5. This organization has the ability to accomplish what it says it will do.
6. This organization is known to be successful at the things it tries to do.
Organization shows integrity
7. The organization treats people like me fairly and justly.
8. The organization can be relied on to keep its promises.
9. Sound principles seem to guide the behavior of this organization.
10. This organization does not mislead people like me.
Organization shows goodwill
11. Whenever this organization makes a decision I know it will be concerned about people like me.
12. I believe this organization takes the opinions of people like me into account when making decisions.
13. This organization is interested in the well-being of people like me, not just itself.
14. The organization wants to understand how its decisions affect people like me.
15. The organization provides information that is useful to people like me for making informed decisions.
16. The organization wants to be accountable to people like me for its actions.
17. The organization wants people like me to know what it is doing and why it is doing it.
Communication efforts are participative
18. Asks for feedback from people like me about the quality of its information.
19. Involves people like me to help identify the information I need.
20. Provides detailed information to people like me.
21. Makes it easy to find the information people like me need.
22. Asks the opinions of people like me before making decisions.
23. Takes the time with people like me to understand who we are and what we need.
Communication efforts provide substantial information
24. Provides information in a timely fashion to people like me.
25. Provides information that is relevant to people like me.
26. Provides information that can be compared to previous performance.
27. Provides information that is complete.
28. Provides information that is easy for people like me to understand.
29. Provides accurate information to people like me.
30. Provides information that is reliable
Communication efforts provide accountability
31. Presents more than one side of controversial issues.
32. Is forthcoming with information that might be damaging to the organization.
33. Is open to criticism by people like me.
34. Freely admits when it has made mistakes.
35. Provides information that can be compared to industry standards.
Communication efforts are secretive (reverse item)
36. Provides only part of the story to people like me.
37. Often leaves out important details in the information it provides to people like me.
38. Provides information that is intentionally written in a way to make it difficult to understand.
39. Is slow to provide information to people like me.
40. Only discloses information when it is required.