Ongoing social, technological and political shifts should prompt us to embrace a culture of radical transparency, one that sees greater openness not as an imposition by external stakeholders, but as a critical tool we can use in managing complex systems in fluid environments.
Much unease about transparency is connected with ownership; we’re used to owning information, and we guard what we own. But the concept of ownership is shifting, in both the digital and physical worlds. The success of open-source software and the boom of the sharing economy (Uber, Airbnb, etc.), points to a world in which sharing is the new owning. As a result, individual players are increasingly empowered, be they programmers, drivers or independent funders. The free flow of information is the hallmark and fuel of this new economy, one in which the dispersed creativity and intelligence of independent actors can create unprecedented products and services. In today’s economy you gain more by sharing information than by restricting it. Think of the navigation app Waze: it only works because everybody shares.
This rise of the individual comes, for better and for worse, with a weakening of large, centralized institutions. In the Jewish community, this trend makes transparency more necessary than ever. In the past, funders could outsource their funding decisions to, say, the planning department of a federation, whose staff could be counted on to have all the relevant information about the community. Now, however, the atomization of the community means that federations have only partial information, and funders want to make decisions that aren’t curated by what they perceive to be “intermediaries.” Greater communal transparency can help federations to be better connected with the community’s needs and resources, and funders to make better-informed decisions and to be more engaged with the nonprofits they support. Nonprofits, too, can benefit from both the resources and the brainpower of funders thus engaged.
Andrés Spokoiny, “Toward ‘Radical Transparency’ In Philanthropy”, The Jewish Week (22 January 2016), 22-23.