Tuesday, October 14, 2008

An anonymous forum is far better than a committee.

There has been a discussion on this blog, and behind the scenes, regarding the creation of a small, board-sponsored committee to receive anonymous concerns and complaints. Under such a scenario, the information received would eventually find its way to the Board for a response.

However, creating a committee to receive anonymous comments from district staff and the public cannot be as effective as a simple blog. With a blog, no one is looking into the eyes of anyone else and no one will ever have to worry about being uncovered.

A committee requires a group of people to come together on a regular basis to review accumulated concerns. Such a group would have to take time out of their schedules and a meeting space would have to be arranged. With the current state of the Facility Use Policy, it would be any one's guess as to how such a meeting would be coordinated. Issues also surface quickly and may require a response before the next meeting can be scheduled.

A committee also has the additional fault of endowing a select few individuals with identifying information that can be leaked - voluntarily or under duress. A concerned member of staff would rarely be able to determine the identity of the leak and would be worse off with the creation of such a committee. The blog has the advantage of being moderated by just one person. If an identity slips out, there is only one person to take responsibility.

The moderator doesn't have to schedule space in any building or meet formally with anyone else. Most of the blogging activity takes place in the early hours of the morning and without regard for political pressure or consequences to a career with the district.

The blog does not edit comments. We either post the entire comment or reject it entirely. The vast majority of comments are posted, but those that slant heavily toward something inappropriate or filled with profanity are rejected. Supporters and opponents of the blog can contribute.

The blog also allows discussion to take place. A committee cannot offer such a benefit. With a committee receiving anonymous comments, there is no opportunity for constructive dialog to take root. More importantly, a committee would not allow the opportunity for opponents to collect information and mount a well-reasoned and coordinated position.

Clearly, this blog is the ideal format for receiving anonymous comments from district staff and our community. In fact, the Board already reads the blog and therefore has access to the concerns expressed. The Board can choose to take action or they can continue to ignore the anonymous expressions made by voters and residents of our community. It is the thinking of simpletons to assume that anonymous comments are meaningless and don't require an official response.

Furthermore, the fact the Board continues to pretend the blog doesn't exist is a powerful indication of how they would view the contributions of an organized committee.


Rick Jorgensen said...

These are all excellent points and a blog is an excellent way of communicating issues in a broad manner. I’ve seen companies in high tech that use blogs as ways of bridging communication between the “rank and file” and “management”. Microsoft (as an example) has a video blog called “Channel 9” that is internally openly critical and inquisitive of policies and practices of different activities in the company. The “old style management” of “command and control” of people and information doesn’t work in a modern society.

At the same time, I don’t personally believe that an anonymous blog is the be all and end all. It HAS a vital purpose and function in the community but is not the ultimate solution. Even the media doesn’t take action unless they have verifiable sources that can be traced back. The difference is that the media is fanatical about keeping confidences (well most of the time) and has the ability to protect those sources. It’s a difficult balance.

True, a committee has its issues – overhead and time are considerations but the most important is TRUST on the part of all participants – the Board, the Administration and the Staff. The reality is that the Board/Administration will not accept www.esd15.org as an authoritative vehicle and it is doubtful that the Board/Administration can effectively create an alternative blog themselves (plus – no one other than management would trust it).

Some kind of middle ground must be found that can have the CONFIDENCE of either side or the solution will fail. Director Paine has it correct – it is a delicate balance. I’m just curious if this is an important enough issue for them to take action on. The silence is deafening.

What is unacceptable, is the position that Dr. B has that he has “and open door policy”. This obviously has not worked and there are major issues. What he is doing is not working and the Board has an obligation to the citizens to take action and redirect him – publicly and forcefully if necessary. In my own personal experience with him, he politely listens to your concerns and, when asked what the next steps are, responds with “I fulfilled my obligation to listen to you”. This is not an “open door policy”, it is political appeasement. It is lip service not leadership and accountability to the community.

To dismiss the issue as “well, that’s just the way it is”, is irresponsible and insulting. It’s unworthy of an executive of an organization responsible for our children’s education and hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. If that is the only solution the Board needs to seriously question his leadership.

I don’t know what the final solution will be but my guess it is an “all of the above” - a combination of the blog as well as other creditable solutions that all parties can trust and have confidence in. What is important is at this point is that the issue is taken seriously and the Board communicates what it is actively doing about the problem.

Anonymous said...

The only reason to know the identity of someone expressing a concern is to target them for doing so.

Is it Nick's plan to send these concerned citizens a Certificate of Appreciation?

Anonymous said...

Sorry all this bs, I can't stand it. Mr. Jorgensen, you have seen it first hand that happens to employees that speak out of line. Mr. Jorgensen, did you say something wrong to Nick or did Nick take your words wrong way at the board meeting?
Please, don't bring up Micro management, we had a guy from this place. I think his name was DOUG NATHAN, he helped out maintence, warehouse & the district management.
I would like to see that he charged. Upwords of $45,000 i would say.

Anonymous said...

When I first started writing on the blog I wasn't sure if it was safe--sometimes I would call the hotline, sometimes I would write Mark an email, but I wasn't really sure that my identity would remain anonymous. It's difficult to trust someone with your information after distrusting for so many years. I guess my vote would be not for a committee but rather to keep comments just on the blog.

Anonymous said...

The district already offers a forum for discussing such matters; it is called the Building Survey and is jointly run by EEA and administration.

It is a farce. Graphs are either accidentally or purposefully manipulated from one year to the next so the problems aren't so obvious. If questioned about the potential meaning of a reverse bell shaped graph, you may be shouted at in front of your peers. Anonymous comments are ONLY seen by the building principal; no one higher up looks at them (or at least, is supposed to). Negative comments that are offered anonymously are subject to scrutiny by the principal and allies to figure out who wrote them or perhaps they are passed out to staff during the "review" process where such comments are described as coming from "the complainers." Comments are collected by a designated person who quite probably is an administrative lackey who is supposed to quietly note who is handing in comments for later identification. If a building rep (such as I) were to suggest that s/he collect the comments before putting them in the envelope (thus depriving the administration of one way of finding out who was writing them), they are immediately accused publicly in an outrage of not trusting the designated collector, which, while true, is a difficult position to take in the middle of a hostile crowd because it is one more step toward being bullied yourself (it's against federal law to retaliate against union reps for doing their union job, but it's really hard to prove when it's done).

No. There is no mechanism that can be devised that is as effective and to the point as a blog. That's exactly why Nick is so opposed to them. You'll get honest feedback; you can't bully people into submission; you can't hide your faults or those of your other administrators. And if the Board shows that they will take positive action on the concerns, they will get more concerns and we can finally get to the bottom of this pit.

(Rick, another statement used by administration after you've stated your position is "Well, that's just your opinion" [with a heavy sneer in the vocal inflection and perhaps turning on their heel and walking away] which is just as dismissive. These are examples of what psychologists call "extinction" and is another way to put down people who administrators want to get rid of.)

Rick Jorgensen said...

I think it’s very important to set expectations here and I’ll apologize in advance for the long post. The problem in correcting a culture of fear and dissatisfaction (short of firing all of management and starting over) is difficult, time consuming and slow. – I’ve been in companies where you “clean house”, it’s neither realistic nor effective. Many times, it’s a series of small “baby steps”. I agree that the blog serves a vital function but it’s only one function. If you are looking for specific things in your daily work to be “fixed”, you need to know specific instances where managers can respond and then be held accountable. It becomes a vicious cycle where you don’t trust the people to fix the problem so things don’t get fixed and people lose confidence. The result? Another failed attempt and everyone gets depressed.

I’m not saying that a “committee” is the best solution but I do know that in order for it to work, there needs to be a couple of things put in place:

1) It MUST have the trust of the staff bringing issues to it. This will require it be lead by a strong person that the staff TRUSTS. If he/she says that they are working on it and there are no immediate results, the staff must be able to believe them. That is why I asked for specific names from YOU – the people on the line.

2) It must be able to work independently of the administration and have real, public teeth. The ability to call BULL! Independently and unfiltered. Transparency is vital while protecting individual integrity. The “committee” should use the blog and other means to communicate their findings and progress if they want to and be unencumbered by administration or board politics.

3) Most importantly, YOU must give them the benefit of the doubt and allow them the opportunity to succeed or fail. If you give anonymous feedback (easily done via different technical solutions), the results will be less direct. Sometimes, even with specifics, you may not be happy with the results but the objective is to be taken seriously without recrimination.

A “committee” is NOT the only and final solution – something to “sweep the problem under the rug” and move on to prove that the administration “Did Something”. It must be followed up with modern management practices of things like 360 reviews and public disclosure of the effectiveness of the executives of the District – and that means ALL Managers. I’ll post more on this in future posts. This is NOT a simple problem and will require a lot of different solutions. The first step however, is to feel SAFE in respectfully and constructively speaking your mind.

Finally, think of the “committee” as having the power and authority to RESOLVE issues (hence the “teeth”). They are accountable only to the Board and the Public. They can use any source they find credible (the blog included) and must stand beyond reproach of influence (think of Dr. Henry Kissenger being sent to the Middle East to solve a problem – someone respected by all sides and unbiased). The “committee” is not the PROCESS, it is the group empowered and accountable for taking specific action based on the input they receive. Their findings must be taken seriously and acted upon by the Administration. This will require a very strong leader that is trusted by all to do the right thing. Not just an “outside consultant” that has no power nor a person (like me) whom the Administration doesn’t trust either.

PERSONAL PET PEEVE - I personally can’t STAND the term “committee” it sounds like “the Star Chamber” – I hope the Board finds a better name like “Ombudsman” or some such non-official sounding name.

Anonymous said...

I agree the blog is a better forum than a committee. Too many people are afraid right now and would not trust anyone that would be part of a committee. Even myself. Their are things I know that would not share unless it was anonymous and then I still would be afraid to put it all in writing. I lived under the old style management for many years and walked on egg shells each day. No more! Please everyone do what you feel most comfortable doing and anonymous is really OK. Thank you all again for your support,

Thru the eyes of Linda H

Anonymous said...

the board will not touch this with a 10 foot pole!

Anonymous said...

I have been told that the annual building survey will no longer be conducted. Rumor has it that a new survey will be used including only instructional staff (teachers and paraeducators).

The annual building survey results were always presented in the format offering the most favorable appearance to the District.

Anonymous said...

Yes it is true, the building survey has been replaced by the KEYS survey in my building....it's done online...took 45 minutes of uncompensated time! No room for comments as far as I saw. Waste of time.

Anonymous said...

Send the blog a link or copy and we will review it in this forum.

Anonymous said...

Ah, yes, the Keys program.