September-October 2011 Issue • Volume 39 • Issue 7

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From the Executive Officer

Promoting Transparency
and Accountability at the ASA

sally hillsman

Sally T. Hillsman,
ASA Executive
Officer

For non-profits, transparency in organizational management has been linked to increased trust, loyalty, and engagement by those who have a stake in their missions and activities. But what is organizational transparency and how is it measured? Brad Rawlins (2008) focuses on information sharing (positive and negative) that is extensive, accurate, timely, balanced, and unequivocal. The purpose of sharing such information, he says, is to enhance the ability of stakeholders to make reasoned judgments about their organizations and hold them accountable, thereby supporting stakeholders’ trust, loyalty and engagement. The success of transparency can be measured by whether information is truthful, substantial and useful; if stakeholders can participate in identifying what information they want; and if the reporting is balanced.

At this summer’s Annual Meeting, the ASA released its first published “Annual Report.” I hope you picked up a copy at registration, the ASA Bookstore, the Business Meeting or at various other venues. But, if not, the 2010 Annual Report is now posted as an interactive PDF file on our website (see www.asanet.org/about/annualreport.cfm). The ASA is happy to mail a hard copy to any member who requests it, as long as supplies last.

While you might not immediately
think of an Annual Report
as fascinating reading, the
ASA Annual Report provides
succinct answers to many questions
that you and other members
might have asked about
the Association.

This Annual Report represents another step forward in promoting and maintaining transparency at the ASA. The report consolidates in one place various types of information about the ASA which we hope lay out clearly and comprehensively all the important aspects of the Association’s governance, activities, and finances to help members and prospective members assess ASA’s successes and challenges. For many years, the state of the Association has been communicated annually to members and other interested audiences through a variety of separate activities: oral reports from officers at the Association’s annual business meeting; print copies of ASA Council minutes and the ASA Audit in our Association newsletter, Footnotes, and its predecessors; and substantive reports and articles in Footnotes. These important documents were moved online during the last decade with the intent of expanding and improving their accessibility. The Association website has also given us a venue for quickly placing new, timely and time-sensitive information online about Association deadlines, programs, and important professional and disciplinary news (www.asanet.org).

The Challenge of New Communications Technology

The continued evolution of sophisticated communication tools has made possible widespread digitization, rapid search functions, and Web 2.0 technology. Digital storage is no longer an issue and the volume of information made available (and maintained) by the ASA (and others) has increased correspondingly. The activities of the ASA have also expanded over time. Together, these changes pose a new challenge to communication—namely, information overload. How do we provide, at least once a year, comprehensive information about the work and organizational well-being of the ASA to our members and other audiences so that it is in one place, not too long, and provides links to the electronic location of more detailed information? 

This new ASA Annual Report is our first attempt at producing such a comprehensive print and electronic document that, we hope, increases transparency of our vibrant and complex scholarly organization. The data cover 2010; the financial information is for calendar/FY 2009, which was the last year for which audited data were available before going to press. (After Council reviewed and approved the FY 2010 audit during the recent Annual Meeting, it was made available on the ASA website. Go to www.asanet.org — click on “About ASA,” then “Governance,” and then “Audits of Financial Records.”) 

While you might not immediately think of an Annual Report as fascinating reading, the ASA Annual Report provides succinct answers to many questions that you and other members might have asked about the Association. For example,

Feedback

We will assess the results of releasing this report in order to decide how to structure a 2011 Annual Report. We are in an exploratory mode, and we have chosen to err on the side of providing more information in the 2010 report than in typical corporate annual reports. We hope that you will find the content interesting, as well as accurate, substantial, useful, and balanced. Ultimately, the Association is accountable to each of its members for its actions and policies. We invite you to read the report and think about the three parts of the ASA mission: to serve sociologists in their work; to advance sociology as a science and a profession; and to promote the contributions and use of sociology to society. Based on what you read, do you see the ASA’s activities and policies advancing our mission?  Do you think the Annual Report contains the information you need? Please let me know what you think. You can email me at executive.office@asanet.org.

Reference

Rawlins, Brad L. 2008. “Measuring the relationship between organizational transparency and employee trust.”  Public Relations Journal 2(2):1-21.


Sally T. Hillsman is the Executive Officer of ASA. She can be reached by email at executive.office@asanet.org.

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