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October 18, 2011
"Transparency continues to be an issue for AALL members"
In the From the President column in the September/October 2011 issue of AALL Spectrum, Darcy Kirk writes
Transparency continues to be an issue for AALL members, so I plan to provide as much information to members as possible, in as timely a fashion as possible, as well as to allow for member input. I also look forward to hearing from you individually if you have concerns that I might help address.
OK ... I'm thinking the following suggestion echos more in accountability than transparency but one really can't have one without the other. So here is a big picture suggestion ahead of the Executive Board's upcoming meeting.
It's time for performance budgeting. How about establishing performance budgeting for AALL activities timely announced before their engagement for member input, after their conclusion, again for member input, and finally in an annual keynote State of the Association message from the out-going president at our annual meeting, again for member input by way of questions (plus webcast live for members not attending the annual meeting).
In a nutshell, performance budgeting is a means to justify one-off and regular on-going activities by stating with specificity the objectives to be accomplished and also with equal specificity the expected costs associated with the activity.
Take for example, a one-time activity: if our association intends to hire a consultant to do something, shouldn't the membership know the Executive Board's decision to do so in advance based on performace budgeting principles:
- What are the specific objectives to be accomplished?
- What bidding procedures will be used?
- How much will be budgeted for the consultant?
- How much staff time quantified in terms of compensation cost including so-called honorariums has been budgeted for the project?
After the activity has been concluded, performance budgeting would call for something more than the usual happy talk about how great the project was. It would call for a statement of accounting that addresses the following:
- What objectives were accomplished?
- What objective were not?
- What were the actual itemized expenses incurred?
- If follow-up is recommended, what will those objectives be and what are the budgeted costs to execute them?
Other one-offs include conferences, even regular ones e.g., leadership, fit into this before and after accountability. On-going activities like AALL publications and annual meetings also fit the performance budgeting matrix. While figures can be gleamed from AALL budgets, what is not available is a frank statement of objectives, an equally frank assessment of the degree of achievement made and the specific cost-to-members. Sound like a fair amount of work. So what. Those of us who spend a fair amount of time performing cost-benefit-performance assessment analysis to inform our employers should expect nothing less from AALL.
How often, for example, has any rank-and-file member heard from our association in an official statement that "we really screwed up on that one and it cost us $X in the process?" I can't remember one. As our association president has stated "transparency continues to be an issue for AALL members"."Provid[ing] as much information to members as possible, in as timely a fashion as possible, as well as to allow for member input" is a noble objective, one long overdue. I hope our current president succeeds. But in my opinion, the best way to do that would be to institutionalize performance budgeting by way of timely communications on her watch.
There is no transparency without accountability. The first step must including bean-counting accounting in a before-and-after manner along with a specific statement of objective so members can evaluation the value before the fact; that would be real member input. That must be followed up with a frank assessment communicated to all members for major activities (oops, a loophole!) in a timely manner afterwards.
No one not drinking the AALL Kool-aid believes the happy talk that is the typical fodder members read in official announcements and documentation of AALL activities because members know no organization is perfect. When mistakes are made, just say so and identify the costs associated.
My hunch is membership criticism will continue but could be more constructive if constructive criticism is what our elected officials and association staff really want. It certainly would be a step in the right direction ifAALL wants to regain widespread membership trust. If not, the perception will remain that AALL conducts far too much of its business in secret; does not engage members who are not insiders and will do whatever under the guise of being in the memberships "best interests."
Transparency and accountablity requires independent oversight. This is a problem of AALL's own offical creation. Unless structural transformations that bring sunlight to shine upon our association are not made, the status quo will not change. The cycle of membership engagement from being interested to becoming fed up will simply continue as it has done for decades now.
Personally, I think the best way to break this membership cycle will take more than just the implementation of performance budgeting. It will take the creation of an independent oversight committee tasked with inspecting, evaluating and reporting on AALL activities -- an oversight committee elected by members for members from members standing for election without being screened; certainly not a committee appointed by the Executive Board or based on candidates selected by the Nominations Committee.
Yes, a grassroots committee, one large enough to perform the task at hand and serving long enough so as to figure out how AALL operates to perform the oversight needed. Let any member toss his or her hat in the ring with the usual statement of qualifications and explanation why the person is standing for election.
Ya think that is ever going to happen? [JH]