April 2009: What Does Transparent Governance Look Like?
You have both advocated transparent governance. Please describe what transparency looks like to you.
Response from Laurel Hallman
Transparency in governance is key to our work as an association; it is a partner to our commitment to democratic process and fundamental to our living faith. The challenge we face at this time is the volume of information and the level of detail that we must manage in this new century. How do we insure that our congregations know what they must know about what our association is doing on their behalf? How can our association and its staff stay aware of congregational views on everything from worship resources to socially responsible investments? How do we insure that the channels between our congregations and our association are clear and accessible?
It will take real intentionality on our part. This issue is a wonderful example of how we can embrace the good work of the Open Access Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and combine it with the power of the Internet. In a Hallman administration, we will partner with staff to streamline and to consolidate information about the work we will be doing and the decisions we will be making. Our websites will move to the next level of accessibility, and we will structure a single place for our congregations to go for reports, information, and opportunities for comment. Most important of all, transparency in governance is an attitude we all must model. Those of us who serve our free faith must be committed to openness, and that commitment will be key to my presidency.
Response from Peter Morales
Secrecy destroys trust and, therefore, erodes community. When trust is lacking, people cannot come together in good faith or commit themselves to a vision of a common future.
Transparency in governance, therefore, is absolutely essential. As a former journalist, I have seen the harm a lack of transparency can do. The basic rule to which I have always subscribed is this: everything is public unless there is a compelling interest to preserve confidentiality. In practice, the reasons to keep something confidential are very few. Clearly, personnel matters must be kept confidential in order to protect individuals. If there is a legal issue around litigation (or potential litigation), that must also be kept in confidence. Negotiations around contracts and purchases are another area where confidentiality must be honored.
Virtually everything else should be out in the open. However, there is a big difference between theoretical openness and true transparency.
In practice, transparency in governance is about much more than not keeping secrets. Transparency means making every effort to share information and, just as important, to invite input and to share the deliberations that lie behind decisions.
The practice of transparency also means being willing to share bad news. For example, if the UUA undertakes a program to, say, increase retention of youth and young adults and the program falls short of its goals, that information must not be buried. When we bury bad news we compromise our ability to learn and to succeed.
Ultimately, transparency is about much more than governance. Transparency is about building relationships of trust and honesty. Transparency is essential to personal relationships, to a religious community, and to a religious movement. Leadership is based on trust. Without transparency we cannot build the vital religious movement we all seek.
Finally, I have practiced this kind of transparency throughout my career. If I am elected, I am committed to the practice of transparency at all levels of the UUA.
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Last updated on Friday, July 22, 2011.