Monday, May 08, 2006

Why transparency matters

Transparency may be the most underappreciated feature of a strong system. Every day system stakeholders experience the ability of bureaucrats throughout the system to stretch the letter and spirit of existing statute and regulation. Often, those innovations are flexible solutions to situations not foreseen in the development of existing law. Often the experience is of a misrepresented regulation for the purpose of saying no to a flexible or compulsory solution.

The more that DDS, Regional Center and Vendor actions are exposed to sunshine, the more likely flexible solutions will be applauded and inappropriate denials of rights will cost the decision-maker. At every level of the system from the legislature to the quality of breakfast in a group-home, people with disabilities benefit from the various agencies understanding that the quality of their work being widely known and understood.

I offer an additional point, my own theory. I do believe that control must be balanced with the organic process of policy-making. Because most decisions are made in the dark by people alone, each of whom most often prefer to be in control, I expect that the system of support for people with disabilities is massively out of balance on the side of rigidity. An open dialogue can massage that stiffness and restore some of the flexibility the developmental disability system in particular was wisely designed for.

The CDCAN initiative to enable journalism by system stakeholders is so important. The fact that anyone's actions may be the subject of a webcast marks a major change to the milieu in which professionals act regarding disability rights and opportunities. Along with the teleconferences which highlight the micro-effects of macro-policy, CDCAN is the largest part of a systemwide push for greater transparency and through that, greater accountability and better decision-making.

CDCAN is not intended to be, nor should it be the only agency expanding transparency. At the local level support groups, boards of directors, blogs (God help us,) and other networks have the opportunity to make transparent local and even individual policy-making and action.

A note about client and worker confidentiality. The right of the individuals involved in this system impedes transparency but also represents a crucial element of the dignity of the individual. Efforts to increase informal information-sharing and public awareness of what actually happens in the system need to consider the importance of privacy and privacy-protecting law. That said, two principles should be remembered: The freedom of the press is enumerated in the constitution and, therefore, no law or regulation can impede the right of people to seek information regarding public decision-making and to publicize the information obtained is superior to every confidentiality provision on the books. Second, confidentiality is the property of the person the decision regards, not the professionals participating. There is unlikely to be a legal offense where a person wants their story told.

Update: Chris Thompson has left a link to a site he writes with a partner on transparency as a communication tool. Click here to read about why transparency matters.