Transparency is at once an empty promise, a heavenly ideal and a meaningless bit of modern communication jargon that we'll all one day fondly associate with the 2000s the way we associate "throughput" with the 1970s, "total quality" with the 1980s and "empowerment" with the 1990s.
And yet, there's something permanent about it: If I had to write for the time capsule an essay titled, "What Transparency Means to Me," I would write about my relationship with the trade association for communicators, the International Association for Business Communicators.
Fifteen years ago, IABC was a directory and a magazine and a conference and a headquarters office that existed only in my imagination. The only person I really knew there was Gloria Gordon the IABC warhorse, who edited the magazine. She couldn't hide; she was right there on the masthead. So they also made her the director of public relations. She could be reached through the switchboard, which I remember by rote to this day: 415-433-3400. (It has since changed.)
Now, the entire IABC leadership team is not only known to me, but every senior leader has a blog; so does IABC's paid president, Julie Freeman. And its volunteer chair, Barbara Gibson, is a blogging fool. (It was she who suggested that IABC's senior staff start blogs, senior VP of education Chris Grossgart tells me.)
What difference does this really make in terms of my relationship with IABC? It means that, in order to approach the organization as a reporter or as a business partner, I don't have to have covered it for 15 years to be able to ID some of the players. It means I can assess their personalities and even know a little about what's been on their minds lately before I start randomly calling the switchboard. It means I don't have to be gregarious in order to reach them.
It's not transparency at all, really. Transparency would imply that I know everything I want to know about IABC and its inner workings and all the decisions its leaders make, whenever I want to know it. It's really just accessibility. Which isn't revolutionary or sexy.
But this accessibility seems permanent to me, in IABC and in almost all other organizations, and it seems real and quantifiable. Which is more than you can say about "transparency."
What, in practical terms, does "transparency" mean to you? Anything? Or everything?