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June 13, 2005

Madison School Board Finance & Operations Committee Presentation

Johnny Winston, Jr. kindly asked me to give a brief presentation to the Madison School Board's Finance & Operations Committee on "Non-traditional Communication Strategies". Following are my thoughts:

  • RSS Newsreaders:
  • Blogs I mentioned:
    • NYU's Jay Rosen writes about traditional and emerging media.

    • Wispolitics does a great job creating and aggregating state political news.

    • UW Grad Dave Winer is the original blogger.

    • The EFF, which we should all support, has published a "Legal Guide for Bloggers".

    • Business Week: Mass collaboration on the internet is shaking up business.

    • Roger Price expressed concern about the authenticity of information. One of the key differences with internet writers or bloggers is that others can link and/or comment on any post. This type of expression or fact checking is nearly impossible in traditional one way media. Roger can choose to participate in the conversation, or not. If he does not, the conversation continues, without his point of view. Jon Udell writes a timely article on this very issue: "Wikipedia and the social construction of knowledge"

    • Steve Rubel: 10 Commandments for The Era of Participatory Public Relations

    • Robin Sloan, Matt Thompson & Aaron McLeran created this fabulous look back at the media revolution - from 2014. It's called EPIC

    Posted by James Zellmer at June 13, 2005 10:08 PM


    Roger Price, Shwaw Vang, and Oliver Kieffer expressed concerns about blogging.

    I summarized each's position below (correct me if it is wrong or incomplete).

    Roger: Blogs are filled with inaccuracies -- others facts may be wrong. But, he is obligated to ensure his information is accurate before making publication.

    Shwaw: Staff should not participate or they should limit the dialog to a couple of messages before bringing the matter to the Board. Board members are required to conduct their business in public, not on blogs and shouldn't participate and be influenced on such sites.

    Oliver: Board must be careful not to make policy based on blog communications. You can't sufficiently explain your reasoning on a blog; you can't post a 5-page paper on a blog so people can truly understand why you made or are making the right decision.


    I've lived too long and have had too many experiences to have the temerity to suggest my own or any others' thinking has reached perfection and clear thinking. Unfortunately, the positions of Roger, Shwaw and Oliver seem to suggestion they remain under that illusion.

    Rather than me pontificating on the obvious, I'll quote a respected authority at length.

    "No amount of thinking is enough. You can improve your ability to think, but however systematic or well directed, it will not be perfect.... There will always be important things you don't know -- and there is no way of predicting where the gaps in your understanding will be.... It is not a question of finding out whether [your] thinking is flawed -- you can be confident that it is".
    from Getting It Done, Roger Fisher et al, Director of the Harvard Negotiation Project, Harvard Law School. (Fisher is also the co-author of "Getting to Yes", "Getting Passed No", and other seminal works on negotiation strategies).

    Policy decisions will be flawed. Researchers in the sciences routinely publish their research in refereed journals to be criticized and reviewed for errors. Scientific progress requires it.

    Likewise, any suggestion or idea that decisions of policy can or should be above criticism and review or that one's thinking has reached such a pinnacle strikes me as absurd, if not dangerous.

    The matter of conducting Board business on blogs raises other issues.

    Board members now make decisions based on private communications with administration, staff, at luncheon meetings with teachers, principals, labor representatives, parents, kids. These are all held outside the public's purview.

    The administration makes decisions, and holds discussions with staff, discusses issues, drafts memos and papers with labor union representatives, Board members, teachers, principals, some parents(?). These communications are now, all outside of the knowledge of the public at large.

    And in each of the above cases, the public is or may be signficantly impacted.

    Are these discussions not conducting Board or District business? Of course they are; but they are being conducted in "secret", unpublished and unacknowledged.

    All of us get our information from a variety of sources. Our inner circle of advisors, inner circle of peers, reading Education Week, reading newspapers, maybe even reading research papers on various subjects, or talking to one or more "experts".

    But, just because our sources are hidden from public view and are not subject to criticism and different points of view, does not mean our positions are correct. These views have not be tested, and dangerously lead to false confidence that we know the "truth".

    Withholding information from the public until it is perfect, withholding information based on your view of "need to know", avoiding subjecting your ideas to public scrutiny, and holding information "close to the chest" are not the answers to engendering trust or respect from the community, nor does it improve the chances of the right decisions being made.

    There is only one solution: open and public dialog after the active solicitation of criticism and suggestions, with the goal of making the right decisions.

    Posted by: larry Winkler at June 14, 2005 7:36 AM

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