A couple months ago we published a blog post by our president, Larry Kramer, announcing a new policy on open licensing of the materials grantees create with our funds. Reaction to it—and this has been true of pretty much everything we’ve done related to openness and transparency over the past year—was reassuringly positive. Leaders in the field of open licensing praised us in comments. Colleagues buttonholed us at conferences, wanting to know more. People said nice things about us on Twitter.
— Fiona Harvey (@fionajharvey) September 20, 2014
— Jane Park (@janedaily) September 18, 2014
It felt good.
Good enough—almost—to compensate for the months of meetings, draft statements, requirements memos, rethinking, informal conversations, timeline discussions, cajoling, and just plain old work that went into it.
That’s not a complaint, mind you, more an explanation of what “transparency” has meant for the Hewlett Foundation and our staff, and what it is likely to continue meaning: an idea for a new way to share what we know, followed by careful deliberation, consensus-building, planning, and changes to our internal systems before we ever get to an announcement of a new policy, let alone the actual, you know, being transparent.
It doesn’t make for the stuff of thrilling blog posts, and people aren’t likely to sing our praises on the Internet, but we continue to make progress on a number of projects related to transparency. Consider this an update.
We’ve made changes to our grants management software and contracting system to allow us to track evaluations of our strategies more easily, and to gather the “work products” that grantees produce with our funds. We’ve revised our proposal and reporting templates to explain the changes we’re making (and the new requirements we’re introducing around open licensing) to our grantees. We’ve gathered evaluations completed over the past few years, and are reviewing those to make sure there’s no confidential information in them that would preclude sharing them publicly. And we’ve made improvements to our online grants database to make it easier to search for grants associated with a particular program or initiative.
We’ve also completed the analysis of our website I wrote about earlier this year. We’re planning on a full redesign of the site in 2015, and to be honest, you won’t see a lot of the work I’ve just described above until that new site is live.
The will to be more open is there, and much of the work to get ready internally for more sharing is done. But without a web platform built for transparency—one that helps make clear the connections between programs and strategies, between staff members and grants and work products and evaluations—we can’t yet say we’re as open as we’d like, or intend, to be. We’re still in the middle, though definitely not stuck.
In the meantime, this blog offers what I think is the best expression of our ongoing commitment to openness and transparency. For the past year, my colleagues and our guest bloggers have offered their thoughts on our grantees’ successes and our own failings, on developments in our fields and the news of the day. We’ve published pieces from PhDs and recent junior high school graduates, and everything from learned analyses of the American electorate to what I’m pretty sure is the only successful (or attempted, for that matter) Rickroll by a foundation president. Our blog is many things, but most of all, it’s a window into our work, and our thinking, as it develops. What could be more transparent than that?
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In case you missed it, that last paragraph was meant to mark the first anniversary of this blog, which launched on November 19, 2013 with a post by Larry Kramer called Learning, Transparency, and Blogs. Over the past year, we’ve published almost 240 posts from more than two dozen contributors, representing many thousands of words and more good ideas than I can count. We’re grateful to everyone who’s taken the time to read what we’ve written, and especially to those of you who’ve shared or commented on it.
Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll continue to use the blog to let you know what we’re thinking about, and provide a way for you to engage with our ideas. We hope you’ll stay with us—let us know when a post sparks questions for you, challenge us when we need challenging. With your help, we’ll do our best to make sure this “Work in Progress” continues to be what Larry hoped it would in that first post: “a lively forum from which everyone can learn.”