It’s sometimes difficult to tell the truth, especially in arenas like the workplace, where inequalities of power and authority make it difficult to “speak truth to power.” In a recent Harvard Business Review article, “4 Ways Lying Becomes the Norm at a Company” (February 15, 2019) Ron Carucci discusses the results of a substantial, 15 year longitudinal study that examined the systemic (vs. personal) incentives for dishonesty. Carucci says there are a range of incentives, or prompts, for employees to be less than honest at work. Among these:
- Inconsistency: An inconsistency between an organization’s stated mission, objectives, and values, and the way it is actually experienced by employees and the marketplace. As one interviewee put it, “Our priorities change by the week. Nobody wants to admit we’re in trouble, so we’re grasping at straws. We don’t know who we are anymore, so we’re just making things up.”
- Unjust accountability systems, especially when an organization’s processes for measuring employee contributions is perceived as unfair or unjust. Research shows that people are nearly 4 times more likely to withhold or distort information when the system is perceived to be unfair or rigged.
- Poor organizational governance; for example there is no effective process to gather decision makers into honest conversations about tough issues. Truth is forced underground, leaving the organization to rely on rumors and gossip.
- Inter-group rivalry, conflict, and competition (what Carlucci terms “weak cross-functional collaboration.”) is a predictor of people withholding information or distorting truthful information. Additionally, Carlucci observes that isolation, fragmentation, and departmental/divisional loyalties often result in dishonesty or a damaging lack of candor.
Because these factors are cumulative, an organization afflicted with all four of these factors is 15 times more likely to end up in an “integrity catastrophe” than those who have none of these four integrity/honesty problems. Carlucci argues however, that these organizational problems are alterable and that a culture of honesty can be achieved by companies and organizations that challenge these issues.
“4 Ways Lying Becomes the Norm at a Company,” Ron Carucci, Harvard Business ReviewFebruary 15, 2019
Meritocracy is a system in which skills, ability, talent, and knowledge are thought to be the best basis for promoting people to positions of power and social standing. Advancement in a meritocratic system is based on performance, typically as measured through examination, or otherwise demonstrated achievement. Meritocracies can be found as far back as 6th century BC China, where an administrative meritocracy was based on civil service examinations, rather than inherited offices. In contemporary England, there is a Meritocratic political party which believes, among other things, that there should be a 100% inheritance tax, so that the super-rich can’t pass on their wealth to a select few (their privileged children) and that every child should get an equal chance to succeed in life. Needless to say, a fully realized meritocracy could go a long way to ending elite dynasties and hereditary monarchy.
Ironically, the term ‘meritocracy’ was coined as a satirical slur in a dystopic novel, The Rise of the Meritocracy, 1870–2033, published in 1958, by the British sociologist and Labor party politician Michael Young. The Rise of the Meritocracy imagines a world in which social class and inherited position has been replaced by a system that promotes those to the top those who have advanced educationally as evidenced via rigid testing and objective standards. The book, however, argues that meritocracy doesn’t eliminate ruling elites, but simply ends up recreating a new class system by means of education and testing. As the conservative commentator, Toby Young, (the son of the author of Rise of the Meritocracy) recently observed “(there is) the tendency within meritocracies for the cognitive elite to become a self-perpetuating oligarchy.”
For many years, the US has been thought to be predominately a meritocracy–one in which the social power of inheritance and privilege had been superseded by a system in which leaders and socially prominent persons are those who possess superior knowledge and talent. A spate of recent articles, some of which were precipitated by the recent college-admissions scandal (See, for example. “A History of College Admissions Schemes, From Encoded Pencils to Paid Stand-Ins,” Adeel Hassan, March 15, 2019, New York Times) calls into question many of the assumptions about the benefits of meritocracy, and suggests that meritocracy has not yet been realized.
There are, of course, a number of criticisms of meritocracy and the concept of “merit” on which it is based. Among these:
- What counts as meritorious and who decides which qualities, skills, and knowledge are worthy of merit?
- In educational systems, do standardized tests and other measures of merit accurately and thoroughly indicate merit/worth?
- Is meritocracy a kind of “social Darwinism,” in which the survival (and promotion) of the physically “fittest,” is replaced by the survival of the cognitively “smartest” (i.e. the best test takers)?
- Does wealth and inheritance affect individuals’ ability to obtain the educational credentials by which meritocracy is demonstrated? (For example, does the level of education required for a person to become competitive in a meritocracy discriminate against those who are unable to afford the often expensive and time-consuming “markers” that an education affords?)
- Does meritocracy, despite its original anti-elitist intentions, merely recreate another kind of permanent elite?
The ultimate question is whether a meritocracy is the best we can do? While meritocracy is problematic, is there a fairer system to replace it? (See for example Richard Dawkins brief discussion, “Democracy or Meritocracy: Which is the Government of Reason?”)
“A History of College Admissions Schemes, From Encoded Pencils to Paid Stand-Ins,” Adeel Hassan, March 15, 2019, New York Times
“A ‘Meritocracy’ Is Not What People Think It Is.” Ben Zimmer, The Atlantic March 14, 2019
“The Scandals of Meritocracy,” Ross Douthat, New York Times, March 16, 2019
The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy, Nicholas Lemann, Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (October 1, 1999)
“Meritocracy” at Wikipedia
“What’s (still) wrong with meritocracy” Toby Young, The Spectator
“College Admission Scandal,” various authors, New York Times
Philanthropies play an important role in contemporary society. They are, by their very nature, focused on supporting the public good and human welfare. While philanthropies, each year, channel vast sums to the achievement of laudable goals, their social and economic power has raised questions about their unalloyed reputation for ‘doing good’. See, for example, our previous blogpost, “Philanthrocapitalism?”
In an attempt to provide a voice to those who have worked with foundations, a new website, GrantAdvisor, offers grantees of foundations a safe way to anonymously give feedback about the grantmaking/receiving process. GrantAdvisor also offers foundations an opportunity to learn about grantees’ experience working with foundation staff.
GrantAdvisor effectively serves as a kind “Yelp” to those in the non-profit community. Here for example is a link to grantees experience working with the Wal-Mart Foundation.
You can view GrantAdvisor here to learn more about how the site works and to review the reviews of a number of important national and local foundations.
“A Place Where You Can Speak Your Mind to That Foundation,” Amy Costello. Non Profit Quarterly
“Benchmarking Foundation Evaluation Practices,” Center for Effective Philanthropy
Gathering evaluative information about a program or initiative often relies upon evaluators physically visiting the program’s location in order to observe program operations, to collect evidence of the program’s implementation and outcomes, and to interview staff and program participants. The empirical and observational nature of site visits offer evaluators a unique lens through which to “see” what the program actually is, and how it attempts to achieve the desired outcomes it hopes to achieve.
In their influential article, “Evaluative Site Visits: A Methodological Review,” American Journal of Evaluation, Vol. 24, No. 3, 2003, pp. 341–352, Lawrence, Keiser, and Levoie note that, “An evaluative site visit occurs when persons with specific expertise and preparation go to a site for a limited period of time and gather information about an evaluation object either through their own experience or through the reported experiences of others in order to prepare testimony addressing the purpose of the site visit.” Unlike case studies, which are of longer duration and often of greater depth, and which seek to describe in detail the instance or phenomena under study, site visits are of limited time duration, and are focused on gathering data that ultimately will inform judgement about a program’s worth/value. Site visits typically involve the use of a number of qualitative methods (e.g., individual and focus group interviews, observations, document review, etc. For more information on the kinds of data that site visits permit, see our previous blog post “Just the Facts: Data Collection.”
Michael Quinn Patton summarizes the essential elements of an evaluation site visit:
- Competence– Ensure that site‐visit team members have skills and experience in qualitative observation and interviewing. Availability and subject matter expertise does not suffice.
- Knowledge– For an evaluative site visit, ensure at least one team member, preferably the team leader, has evaluation knowledge and credentials.
- Preparation– Site visitors should know something about the site being visited based on background materials, briefings, and/or prior experience.
- Site participation– People at sites should be engaged in planning and preparation for the site visit to minimize disruption to program activities and services.
- Do no harm– Site‐visit stakes can be high, with risks for people and programs. Good intentions, naiveté, and general cluelessness are not excuses. Be alert to what can go wrong and commit as a team to do no harm.
- Credible fieldwork– People at the site should be involved and informed, but they should not control the information collection in ways that undermine, significantly limit, or corrupt the inquiry. The evaluators should determine the activities observed and people interviewed, and arrange confidential interviews to enhance data quality.
- Neutrality– An evaluator conducting fieldwork should not have a preformed position on the intervention or the intervention model.
- Debriefing and feedback– Before departing from the field, key people at the site should be debriefed on highlights of findings and a timeline of when (or if) they will receive an oral or written report of findings.
- Site review– Those at the site should have an opportunity to respond in a timely way to site visitors’ reports, to correct errors and provide an alternative perspective on findings and judgments. Triangulation and a balance of perspectives should be the rule.
- Follow-up– The agency commissioning the site visit should do some minimal follow‐up to assess the quality of the site visit from the perspective of the locals on site.
Lawrence, Keiser, and Levoie argue that evaluative site visits are not merely a venue in which a range of predominately qualitative methodologies are used, but a specific kind of methodology, which is distinguished by its use of observation. “We believe site visit methodology is based on ontological beliefs about the nature of reality and epistemological beliefs about whether and how valid knowledge can be achieved. Ontologically, in order to conduct site visits the evaluator must assume that there is a reality that can be seen or sensed and described. Epistemologically, site visits are based in the belief that site visitors are legitimate, sensing instruments and that they can obtain valid information through first-hand encounters with the object being evaluated.”
Accordingly, site visits are where evaluators can get “the feel” of what a program is and does. As a result, site visits are a critical means through which evaluators gather and interpret data with which to make judgements about the value and effects of a program.
“Evaluative Site Visits: A Methodological Review,” Frances Lawrenz, Nanette Keiser, and Bethann Lavoie, American Journal of Evaluation, Vol. 24, No. 3, 2003, pp. 341–352.
See Michael Quinn Patton quoted in Editors’ Note, Randi K. Nelson and Denise L. Roselan, New Directions in Evaluation, December, 2017
Conducting and Using Evaluative Site Visits: New Directions for Evaluation, Number 156, February 2018
Over the years, Brad Rose Consulting has provided evaluation services to philanthropies and community service organizations. These clients are dedicated to making the world a better place, often through philanthropic work with disadvantaged populations. While the work of philanthropies is generally perceived as laudable, there are a number of potential objections to the rise of philanthropic largesse.
- Charities often target symptoms, not causes- Charity helps the recipient with their problem, but it doesn’t do much to deal with the causes of that problem.
- Charity may become a substitute for real justice- The idea that charity is wrong when it’s used to patch up the effects of the fundamental injustices that are built into the structure and values of a society.
- Charity may not provide the best solution to a problem- Charitable giving may not be the most effective way of solving world poverty. Indeed, charitable giving may even distract from finding the best solution – which might involve a complex rethink of the way the world organizes its economic relationships, and large-scale government initiatives to change people’s conditions.
- Charity may benefit the state rather than the needy- If the charity sector increases spending in an area also funded by government then there is a risk that government will choose to spend less in that area.
- Charities are often accountable to the givers not the receivers- because the recipients of charity are often unorganized and the charity doesn’t know their individual identities, it’s often easier for charities to make their performance reports to the givers.
In his article “The Downside of Doing Good,” David Campbell examines recent critiques of philanthropy. Following Anand Giridharadas (Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World) Campbell argues that “wealthy philanthropists and other prominent social change leaders often co-exist in a parallel universe (called) “MarketWorld,” where the best solutions to society’s problems require the same knowhow used in corporate boardrooms. That is because MarketWorld ignores the underlying causes for problems like poverty and hunger.
He further observes that efforts at educational reform funded by such philanthropic luminaries as Bill and Melinda Gates, via support for charter schools, often fail to understand the underlying inequalities that make schools resourced in vastly different ways. “As long as school systems are funded locally, based on property values, students in wealthy communities will have advantages over those residing in poorer ones. However, creating a more equal system to pay for schools would take tax dollars and advantages away from the rich. The wealthy would lose, and the disadvantaged would win. So it’s possible to see the nearly $500 million that billionaires and other rich people have pumped into charter schools and other education reform efforts over the past dozen years, as a way to dodge this problem.”
“The Downside of Doing Good,” David Campbell
Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, by Anand Giridharadas
Just Giving Why Philanthropy Is Failing Democracy and How It Can Do Better, by Rob Reich