When I joined the Hewlett Foundation in 2013, a renewed attention to transparency was high on my list of priorities. The Foundation has long been committed to openness and sharing information. As my very first post for this blog noted, we were among the first foundations to publish the results of our Grantee Perception Reports, and we have made a practice of sharing information about our grantmaking over the years. And we went still further after I arrived, sharing things like the grant descriptions we provide to our Board and a detailed study we prepared for them of grant trends in the past decade. We launched this blog, in fact, to offer Hewlett staff members a way to share their thinking, so others would know what we are up to and could challenge us.
But philanthropy is—or should be—all about learning, and we’ve learned that there really can be too much of a good thing. Even when it comes to transparency. We are thus replacing, or perhaps I should say modifying, our Transparency Initiative, which will now become our Translucency Initiative.
Quite simply, over the past few months, my colleagues and I have grown concerned that we may have gone too far with all this sharing. We wonder whether providing so much information just adds to the noise—pouring more and more data into the ceaseless flood of infographics, spreadsheets, and “must-read” thought pieces that we all confront each day. I confess that sometimes, staring at my ceaselessly replenished inbox late at night, I feel a little overwhelmed by it all. And I’m not even on Twitter!
So rather than continue contributing to the endless stream of humdrum data, we’re ready to make a change. We’re still committed to sharing information about our work, of course, but we’ll do so in ways that are hopefully easier for us to manage and you to digest. With apologies to the Foundation Center, we think of it as having “frosted glass pockets.”
To give you some idea of what this will look like in practice, I’ve included an image of our reimagined grants database, which reflects our new policy of translucency. We asked ourselves: is there really that much difference between a $200,000 grant and a $250,000 grant? As you can see, in the new database, grants of both sizes will be categorized as “A lot of money.” All grants over $5 million will simply be listed under “This better work.”
Our new translucent grants database.
We’ll do something similar for evaluations of our strategies. Rather than diving deep into the weeds of performance indicators, metrics, M&E, and ROI, we’ll ask our evaluators to share their findings using a clear three-point scale: “Getting out the checkbook,” “Meh,” and “Let us never speak of this again.” Simple, wouldn’t you agree?
Consistent with our new commitment to translucency, I’ve shared only the broad, somewhat fuzzy (but colorful!) outlines of our new policy. There’s much more to it, of course. How could there not be? We’re still a foundation, after all.
If you simply must know the intricate details of our current thinking on the topic, I encourage you to read the whole darn thing.