The power of transparency in business, government and non-profit organizing was a key theme from 2015. In Sept, I gave a keynote talk (see RubyConf Taiwan video) called “Transparency Wins.” The title was a play on words, where “win” in English can be both a verb and a noun: how transparency as a methodology causes us to win, and also the story of three wins.

All the disparate threads of my work came together in this presentation, which was my fourth tech talk of 2015. I had been speaking on two quite different themes: two talks focused on game design and theories of play and fun, and this was my second talk on transparency.

sunlight through treesI feel like it is important to convey how and why transparency really works. For many people, it is counter-intuitive to release something that you know has flaws… some would even call it disrespectful to your audience, your community or your customers, but when done right it is the opposite. Transparency can fuel creativity and amplify success.

Reflecting on what it takes to win at something, I realized that a theme from the game design talks applied here, as well. I had presented the definition of an epic win: that extraordinary outcome that feels impossible, until it happens. I was inspired by Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk (see notes on transformative power of games). That same concept is needed when you do something new. Conveying the outcome you intend is the key to making transparency lead to effective participation. Participation increases the size of your team and accelerates learning. We need to make software not just for people, but with people.

Through this framework for explaining effective techniques of transparency, I realized that part of the magic of Bridge Foundry is that we present the vision of a software industry that is reflective of our society. This vision can feel like a bit of a fantasy to newcomers, but then we let them experience a little bit of this future we seek to create. They participate in a workshop where a diverse group of people get together to teach and learn, and they know that their work will take a clear step in the right direction and definitely help a few people. Since the software industry was created by women, this really shouldn’t be so hard, but it’s weird how history gets forgotten so quickly. We need transparency into the past too — understanding history helps us shape the future.

Much of the open source movement in government is focused on accountability, and that is important; however, when we are transparent about our intention as well as the steps we are taking to execute on that intention, we create a space for participation. We have an unprecedented opportunity to create a new kind of participatory democracy. In addition to citizens participating by voting, where they have limited ability to express their intent, where complexity is too often boiled down to binary decisions, we can involve people in the creation of policy and its implementation. In my work on College Scorecard with the Department of Education, I saw first hand how the implementation of policy using technology can be transformative. The US Government released data by releasing an API and a website, making that data immediately useful to students, colleges and the organizations that serve them. We also built the software with the help of individuals who felt that the work was important, which let us do more with a limited budget.

Lastly, in business, the lean startup movement has created a discipline called “customer development” where we develop relationships with customers in advance of creating the product, increasing the chance that the product will actually work for the customers. At Mightyverse, we used a paper-prototype to engage language learners and created a real-world card game that helped us validate our theories of social learning, while building a community that may someday use our mobile app. Business folk might say we’re creating a market (or tapping into one), although I think it is more accurate to say that the market is creating us.

You can watch the whole video here: Transparency Wins, RubyConf Taiwan 2015

2 thoughts on “transparency wins

  1. Sarah, I’s so glad you wrote this up. I love that talk and the spirit of what it means for the creative process. Transparency in the process of creating things opens up so many opportunities for critique, reflection, learning… To me long term, it’s about aspiring to do the greatest possible work, for the greatest good, rather than short term incremental advantage.

    The transparency process you talk about reminds me a bit of the ideas of Gracious Professionalism and Coopertition espoused by the FIRST foundation. Great inspiration for future business leaders.

What do you think?