Alex Tischer 2015 Q&A: Transparency

A number of candidates cited the issue of Board transparency in their manifestos. What does a transparent Board look like to you, and what specific steps would you take to ensure the Board you serve on is a transparent Board? / Many candidates talked about the need for transparency for the board to volunteers/members. What does your vision for transparency entail?

A transparent Board to me means that any and all discussions and votes that do not concern strictly confidential information are made in a place where people from outside the Board can follow along. Where this is not feasible (because discussions take place on a mailing list or for other practical reasons), the important points are summed up understandably, with the necessary context, and made available in a timely fashion. It’s important for there to be information available about ongoing discussions, and for the reasoning behind Board’s actions and decisions.

Having an up-to-date agenda available on the wiki and the website, extensive minutes in both places, and making open Board meetings the standard place to come to decisions — to a degree where a closed section of the meeting would not even take place unless required for confidentiality would be a good start towards transparency.

Keeping Board’s work readily accessible would go a long way to get rid of the suspicious atmosphere of secrecy and distrust that currently permeates Board’s interaction with others. It would also increase accountability of Board members individually and collectively, and the OTW’s as a whole, which is something we desperately need in a nonprofit that relies purely on its members’ donations, and volunteers’ work to exist.

Due to legal reasons, internal transcripts of meetings are purged every year. However with a lack of consistent and comprehensive information posted to internal and external locations, details of Org interactions can be lost to the abyss. This leaves voters with a dearth of details when attempting to learn about the Org, and in this situation, candidates. What internal remedies would you suggest? And what would you suggest voters do in the mean time in lieu of relying on the rumor mill (FFA & emails) and digging through various social media sites?

The best solution I can think of is making sure that all decisions are publically discussed as much as possibly at the time they are made. Because copy-pasting those explanations into the available internal and external locations is a quick and easy thing to do.

This is obviously no quick fix, especially not for these current elections. For voters who want to know more about any candidates or issues, we’re in a less than ideal situation. All I can come up with is to write emails and ask questions. Write to committees, to known volunteers and staff of the OTW that have discussed the elections publicly and ask if they’re happy to answer questions. To make people feel at ease doing so,it would be extremely helpful to have a clear confidentiality policy that actually clarifies what can and can’t be said, because right now, a lot of people are reluctant to say anything at all. Other things to try could be to read the OTW website and other project sites, or dig around to see what the candidates’ committees have accomplished. Or maybe read up on the more interactive news posts, there may be the occasional official comment on those. Any voters that are volunteers can obviously try to read back on transcript of the public rooms up to this year’s purge, but it is a very much less than ideal situation no matter what.

The current Board has had frequent issues keeping an available agenda for their weekly meetings, which were often cancelled or cut short due to lack of quorum or matters to discuss. What do you think the purpose of open Board meetings is, and what would you change about the current setup?

In my vision of a perfect world, all Board meetings are open. Open meetings help with accountability as well as just keeping everyone in the loop. For changes to the current setup, unless there is a very important need to treat information as confidential, I would want the whole meeting public. A short recap of the preceding discussions about any topic that is up for voting should be included. There should be space for anyone attending to discuss, not just Board members. The time and date of Board meetings should be available in a place where volunteers can see it, not locked away on Basecamp. The agenda for each meeting should be available in advance and participating in a set percentage of meetings and votes should be mandatory for Board members.