Even when the leadership of an organization has vowed to engage transparently in everything the organization does, occasionally circumstances will require that a discussion be held behind closed doors.
Because Creating the Future is doing its best to engage openly in all its decisions and actions, this is a very real issue for us!
At our April board meeting, therefore, an agenda item posed the following questions:
- Given our desire to be as deeply and publicly engaged as possible, under what circumstances will the board go into executive session?
- Given our decision to invite guests to fully participate in our meetings, under what circumstances will the board go into executive session?
- While not the desired norm, there will likely be times when it will be necessary to close the doors. Under what circumstances will that occur?
The board’s discussion was (as it always is) rich and multi-layered. We noted that boards traditionally go off the record – into Executive Session – when issues relate to compensation, disciplinary actions, legal issues, privacy issues. The tone changes in those sessions, stemming from the assumption that something formal needs to be discussed in that private session.
That led to the question: If Executive Session is about protecting privacy, whose privacy? Which led to these observations:
We talked about the issue of privacy being personal, i.e. that it should be up to the person involved to determine whether they want their privacy protected.
We also noted that sometimes it is important to have privacy to test a new relationship – that being “on the record” inhibits conversation, making it far easier to get to know someone when the conversation is private. This is of particular importance to us as we seek relationships with partners, funders, demonstration projects, etc. If both of us will be more willing to be frank if the conversation is off the record, maybe that is an appropriate time to go into executive session?
Two issues arose in this part of the discussion. The first is the observation that there will be times when discussing an issue publicly would hamper our ability to perform our mission (e.g. contract negotiations).
The second was a show-stopper – an observation about Creating the Future’s core values, and how we put those into action:
“In most organizations, the assumption is, ‘It’s all private, unless it’s not.’ For us, the assumption will be that it’s all PUBLIC, unless it’s not.”
The board then drafted an outline of a policy, with the decision to
a) Place that draft into a Google doc (you will find that here)
b) Invite discussion. Under what circumstances should Creating the Future’s board (or any board, for that matter) go off the record, behind closed doors – into Executive Session.
At the core of that outline is this intent:
“The Board of Creating the Future seeks to weigh the balance between protecting the legal obligations of the organization, honoring the privacy of individuals, and instilling trust by engaging transparently. The board further acknowledges that we hold dear the value of risk-taking through creative conversation and exploration.”
With that in mind, please take a look at the draft policy we created, and PLEASE add your thoughts there. Hopefully this will be something all of us can use, in our various efforts to create a healthy, humane world!
Photo Credit: CMEarnest on Wikimedia Commons