Public leadership, transparency and the world of social media

levy-articlePaul Levy “They all get the idea that if we’re transparent about what we’re bad at as well as what we’re good at, we’ll get better.”  That’s a quote by Paul Levy, President and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, speaking about his staff. Levy maintains a leadership blog called Running a hospital where he regularly shares “thoughts about hospitals, medicine, and health care issues.” You can also follow Levy on Twitter.

I’ve been thinking about Northfield area public leadership, transparency, and social media tools this week for four reasons. (continued)

  1. City Adminstrator Joel Walinski has invited me to speak about civic engagement technologies for 10 minutes to the Northfield City Council next Monday at their work session.  See previous blog posts about civic engagement here, here, and here.
  2. Tonight I’m going to the School District’s Key Communicator Network meeting (I blogged about this here). The District has received some criticism lately for its handling of the proposed calendar changes and the SNL cancellation.
  3. Tuesday, I blogged about (on my work blog) a new book titled The School Administrator’s Guide to Blogging by Mark Stock.  Yesterday, I loaned the book to Northfielder Charlie Kyte, and a blogger and podcaster (audio and video) in his role as Executive Director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators (MASA). Kyte’s blog is titled The VOICE of Minnesota Education.
  4. Last Monday’s council meeting at which the lack of trust and respect were evidently issues. See the Northfield News article, City, townships don’t see eye-to-eye on annexation.

Lots can be learned by watching how Levy uses his blog and Twitter as a public leader. For example:

There’s a continuing stream of both good and bad news stories like these at all our Northfield area institutions that serve the public in some capacity: the city, the townships, the county, the schools, the colleges, the hospital.  And yet we rarely hear about them.  The ‘bad news’ stories too often never see the light of day. And the ‘good news’ stories are too often spun in such a way that they’re either not believable or they’re ignored. Not always, just too often IMHO.

The increasing pervasiveness of social media tools means, in part, that local leaders have less ability to keep a lid on issues of public concern. (Employee ‘leaks’ travel far and fast. Citizens with blogs pry more effectively.) So ratcheting up the transparency (along with judicious amounts of authenticity and engagement) is a smart strategy. The end result, as Levy says, is the institutions get better at what they do. And that’s what we, the public, want to see. And when we do, we’ll applaud it, thereby encouraging the virtuous cycle to continue and spread.


  1. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: re: #4 … you cite the “lack of trust and respect” at last Monday’s council meeting , I believe with regards to the annexation process change.
    Could you please explain your stance a bit more?

    March 19, 2009
  2. Griff Wigley said:

    Not my stance, Kiffi. Just referring to this in the Nfld News article: “Langer on Monday said the issue was about respect — and the lack thereof. That was a theme Rossing said she has heard over and over.”

    Rossing’s guest column in yesterday’s paper, Annexation 101 helps us remember our objective, seemed an attempt to address the trust/respect issue, too.

    March 19, 2009
  3. kiffi summa said:

    Thanks, Griff. I think it is worth noting that Mayor Mary’s response to a letter to the editor in the previous NFNews and her guest opinion were pretty much the same. She is trying hard to respond in a detailed and thoughtful manner, whether or not all parties agree on the particulars.

    I think your post in general raises an interesting issue for ‘community leaders’ and their responses to either praise or criticism.
    If Supt. Richardson would have commented on the school issues on this blog, would it have been productive or a very long, time consuming ‘argument’ ? … possibly without any satisfactory resolve.

    Here’s an example: Also at Monday’s council meeting, a packet item sought approval from the council of the hospital’s settlement on the construction failure of a portion of the surgical area floor. (it had sunk , 8 inches maybe? and it had to be torn up and reconstructed ). The settlement amount was announced in the packet, but not the costs to the hospital for correcting the fault (no pun intended). It got complicated in the reimbursement to the hospital because some of the original construction companies were no longer in business. Also, obviously when there is not an existing construction company to take the responsibility for the repair, a settlement of some sort will have to be reached, and the very word implies negotiation.

    After the meeting, when asked what the cost of repair actually were, the Mayor said that those costs were “confidential”; i.e. not public information.

    You have raised a very interesting topic …

    So … my question is: How would this example have been helped, or not helped, by a more complete report by the director of the hospital, and in what format should that occur?

    March 19, 2009
  4. Bright Spencer said:

    Just a reminder to leadership people who are on tv cameras. There is a certain amount of enunciation required when speaking into a microphone. And it may be that better sound systems, or that sounds systems be set correctly, but a lot of what I should hear on NTV city council meetings is lost due to people turning their heads away from the mikes, or the all too maddening swallowing of the word sounds instead of good outward projection of the word sounds. This is key to any sort of effective communication or transparency. We are a very visual society and we forget how important sound can be.

    March 19, 2009
  5. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi, a blog is not usually a tool that a leader would use while delicate negotiations are going on behind the scenes, except to communicate about it in a very general way. And of course, only so much can be said after-the-fact in many legal settlements.

    The best use of a blog in a situation like this would have been to regularly post updates about it when the problems first came to light, as that’s when the public gets interested and rumors start flying.

    March 20, 2009

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