Bringing Honesty BackSeptember 15, 2009 Leave a comment
One of the issues with the current funding system is that it tends to invite dishonesty from organizations seeking grants. And perhaps we should not say dishonesty, but the system certainly makes it easy to fall into the temptation of overstating the case, of presenting an aspirational goal as an established reality. This pattern is detrimental to everyone involved. It hurts the funders who will not be able to meet their goals even if they believe they are funding with purpose. It hurts those being served, organized or mobilized, and it certainly hurts the organizations who get caught in the game.
Part of the problem with the normalization of this often subtle dishonesty is that it actually keeps organizations from staring their own reality in the face. As a consultant to all kinds of organizations, from foundations to the grassroots, I experience this insidious state of non-truth as a serious obstacle to my own work. We can’t help an organization move if the organization can not be honest about where it is. The situation forces us to spend a lot energy surfacing the truth, but if we were starting from truth then we would be able to use that energy to hit the ground running.
There are many systemic reasons for this problem, and one of them is our habit of seeing failure as failure rather than seeing failure as learning. When I think about my own life, I look back at the most important and transformative lessons I have learned and I realize I learned them through the painful process of failing. And I mean real failing, not just coming up short on a project, but coming up short as a human being. As I ponder what it would take to bring back honesty, I think that it would mean increasing our capacity to see failure as learning, and to do so as both foundations and funded organizations.
There certainly is more here, and as is often the case, there is a lot more than could be covered in a single blog post. But if I had to offer a teaser for yet another way to bring honesty back, I think it would imply taking a harder look at what is measurable and what isn’t measurable and to find a way to come to terms with the fact that a lot of the highest leverage acts of transformation are not easily measurable with our current tools. We need to measure. Let us get our heads together in order to find the measuring tools that would bring honesty back.