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.

4 comments:

Chris Thompson said...

Doug,

I enjoyed your post on transparency. I run a blog on that subject and I linked to it.

Doug said...

Chris, thanks for dropping in and letting me know about your site. It looks like a great resource for anyone who reads this and wants to think some more about the matter.

paul said...

Monday, May 08, 2006

Why transparency matters
Transparency may be the most under appreciated feature of a strong system.

[…]

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.

[…]

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.


Transparency may be under appreciated, but it is definitely a “talking point”.

In this Bumpkin’s opinion transparency, accountability, and reciprocity are necessary for a quality discussion. Any interlocutor looking for such a discussion should hold these attributes in high regard. By transparency I mean more than just the small hole we clear away from a frosted window. I mean the whole window. I will not bore anyone with my prating about accountability and reciprocity.

When only small hole is cleared in a frosty window we see only the reality that presents through that small hole. If someone, in the name of transparency, dissuades another from clearing the frost from the ENTIRE window that someone is NOT advocating transparency, but rather wearing it as a banner. They are NOT advocating that Plato’s prisoners stand-up, turn around, and see things for what they are. They are only another deceiver in Plato’s cave.

“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.”

“May” is a key word. Does ‘May’ mean random, “I may roll a 7”? Is its meaning arbitrary, “We may consider this important enough to shine the light?” We are arbitrary beings so I guess we cannot, be truly random or without prejudice. Be that as it may… Prejudicial ‘judgment’ in regards to transparency can, with some irony, make things less transparent. If transparency is applied with sufficient bias we have selective transparency. Selective transparency muddies the water and becomes a tool of misdirection. It becomes insufficient hole in the window and another shadow in Plato’s cave.

If we discuss only the rotten apples on ONE particular tree there is an implication that the other trees must be fine. This can be done innocently and accidentally, or with conscious intent under the cloak of transparency.

Six years ago the Association of Regional Center Agencies (ARCA) formed an Eligibility Task Force ‘…to generate standardized guidelines for eligibility determination among all regional centers”. The end result was an eligibility standard contrary to the standards outlined in the Lanterman Act. These standards were used by one regional center to deny services to a consumer eligible under Lanterman. What is more interesting is that ARCA’s new standards were approved by a large board of managers, half of which like have family members receiving services from an ARCA RC. If we value full transparency then this would not be the esoteric phenomenon that it is. Therefore, as of today we do value full transparent.

Just last February the Regional Center of Orange County, in response to a highly publicized [publicized from without - no transparency from within] incident at Jossen Vocational Academy, decided to rework their, “Policy on Notification to Consumers and Families of Significant Service Deficits. A board member suggested that the second paragraph of the policy be revised as follows:

“For any vendored service for which there has been an alleged substantial inadequacy and/or an immediate health and safety violation, the RCOC will notify in writing all affected consumers receiving services from said vendor of the alleged substantial inadequacy and/or immediate health and safety violation. In addition, the consumer’s family will be notified.”

So Many beautiful adjectives! According to Lawyers’ Weekly “If you want to be vague, you will use an adjective. If your verbs are strong and your nouns are good, you won't need a lot of adjectives.” Does RCOC want to be vague? How and who gets to decide if a health and safety violation is “immediate”? How and who gets to decide if an inadequacy is “substantial”? What is an “affected” consumer receiving services from said vendor? How does he/she compare to just “all” consumers” receiving services from said vendor, and How and who gets to decide whom is “affected”? As of today and in just about every situation RCOC could us its own policy to justify NOT contacting a consumer. The incident was not ‘substantial’, ‘immediate, or the consumer wasn’t ‘affected’. These ‘policies’ are approved by a board of managers. Managers that likely have a more provide affect on our service delivery than any other group. Yet, we have more chance of catching a snipe than seeing any transparency or accountability applied here.

Such things will remain beyond the view of the little hole that someone else has cleared for us and we like to call ‘transparency’. It will remain outside of our view because the entire system, and those in it, only value enough ‘transparency’ to move the system in a favored direction. That is not transparency at all. Our system is not strong.

Doug said...

Great comment, Paul. To be honest, one of the challenges in a better system is the appropriate and valid concern for the privacy of the client. That shouldn't apply to the vendors, regional center, clients' rights advocate, etc. We should all be naked in public. Not for aesthetic reasons, of course.

The decisions made everywhere should be accountable to anyone for their basis, the results and the clients or their guardians should be free to know which decisions involved them and to say publicly if they have a different recollection.