What does “hyper-transparency” mean for stakeholder engagement?

So, today I’m in San Francisco speaking in a panel session at the 2011 BSR Conference entitled “Sustainable Engagement in a Hypertransparent World.” Whew. That’s an intimidating title. And what does that even mean??

I was thinking about this more last night as I caught up for a great home-cooked dinner with my college roommate’s family and friends, including two 24-year old women. As my friend and I reminisced about our college days in the lovely 90s, we groaned when these young women said they didn’t know who INXS was, and they laughed when we talked about the first “records” we ever purchased (mine Born in the USA and hers Til Tuesday…). Even the act of my friend pulling out a photo album to show them our younger (flannel-clad, grunge-rock) selves, vs. how she and I now instantly trade pictures on our iphones and facebook pages, was a reminder of how much has changed in a relatively short period of time (and given some of those pictures, I am very thankful that some of those are not digitized…)

For companies, this change has also been quick and dramatic. And we’ve only just scratched the surface in my opinion. New social media tools and ways of processing information have changed the way we think about corporate reporting and stakeholder engagement. This dramatic shift presents new opportunities to share and co-create information with customers and stakeholders. But the pace of that change, and the new challenges, risks and dilemmas it creates can be overwhelming. Some companies and organizations are clearly embracing it, others are dipping their toes in the water, while still others are about to run for cover. The new environment raises questions in my mind related to:

Detail/Usefulness: How much information/transparency is needed, and who’s using it? Is there a point when hypertransparency results in so much data that the key information gets lost?

Accuracy/Trust: Who creates the content, and how do you know know that you can trust the information/author? What mechanisms are in place to hold all participants accountable for their information?

Complexity: How do you balance the desire for open dialogue/transparency with the expectations/requirements to protect privacy?

So there will be a few of us presenting in the session – including Peder Michael Pruzan-Jorgensen from BSR (our fearless moderator), Chris Jochnick from Oxfam America, Leonardo Bonanni from Sourcemap, and Aman Singh Das a writer for Forbes and then of course lots of folks in the room for our discussion.

We’ll be tweeting live during the session today from 3:00-5:15 using the hashtag #BSR11 or you can follow on their Storify site So tweet us questions or post your questions and thoughts in advance here on this blog as well.

Look forward to you joining us virtually for the discussion!

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