User:RobLa-WMF/Transparency

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This is a note I published on OfficeWiki in February 2016, which describes my view on transparency. I've avoided publishing it here until now because I didn't want it to be misconstrued as condoning a lack of transparency generally. I strongly believe in transparency as an important mechanism for achieving trust. This essay is about how to thoughtfully use transparency most effectively to achieve and maintain trust.

We should be careful about going overboard with "publish all of the things!".  There is an underestimated amount of cognitive load associated with ensuring that how you express an idea makes sense for all contexts the 7 billion people who theoretically have access will interpret what you say/express.  We need to be careful about going too far down either end of the spectrum.

The spectrum:

Insular/covert<->Honest/sensibly-filtered<->TMI

As of February 2016, we have arguably gone too far toward the "insular/covert" side of the spectrum, and now trust is low.  Overpublishing may be the best short term fix.  That said, there are obvious risks with TMI:

  • confidentiality breaches
  • privacy breaches
  • security

....but some less obvious problems:

  • Cognitive energy - It's hard to ensure that how you express an idea makes sense for all contexts the 7 billion people who theoretically have access will interpret what you say/express.  What seems like a harmless quip in a meeting might be deeply offensive to someone somewhere 
  • Emotional energy - always being in the public eye can be a drag.  A common complaint among very famous celebrities is "I miss being able to anonymously walk down the street undisguised". We don't have the problem that Hollywood celebrities do (I hope), but there are active members of our community that can be unforgiving and unempathetic.
  • Busywork - it's possible to spend a lot of time creating a lot of information that no one wants to read.  Ok, maybe not "no one", but if we're creating a detailed report only 3 people read in the next 5 years, maybe we should figure out more efficient ways to communicate with those 3 people.
  • TMI bullying - if people don't feel safe that what they say won't be taken out of context, they may refuse to speak.  Saying "we publish everything!" may be a way of (unintentionally?) bullying people into keeping quiet.

When we say "there is no reason for this to be private", let's make sure we take these less obvious problems into account.