Keynote Christina Garsten EPIC2008

I, Bas, am at EPIC 2008 for the coming three days, and will be blogging now and then from the conference floor. Enjoy and feel free to comment!
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The opening keynote by Christina Garsten is somewhat disappointing. She asks: What does transparency mean in different organisations? How do companies respond to a call for transparency?
The conference theme is: Being Seen: Paradoxes and Practices of (In)Visibility. I guess with the financial crisis of today this is a timely theme, and we must praise the organisers for their foresight. It is a coincidence of course, and the theme pointed more to making customers visible in organsations and companies, but Christina makes the connection to the crisis too.¬†Today, in corporatons and organisations, transparency is strongly connected to numbers, because they can be checked, measured etcetera, she states. Consequently, that what is difficult to measure precisely is seen as opaque. Not everything can be made visible and auditable, but this is no reason to dismiss it she argues. Is transparency about being disciplined perhaps, about being seen as in a panopticon all the time? Or does it empower us as managers to take initiative? These two extremes are just one way of understanding that transparency is something that you can play with in an organisation, depending on your position andperspective. I guess we have seen that on a massive scale for the past months in financial institutions.
The keynote is more about listing many different aspects of transparency than offering insights unfortunately. However, there are some little insights such as how a call for transparency, as we see a lot today in the global markets, can drive us easily to focusing on numbers and aspects of a company that can be measured. This is a pity really because it cuts out the storytelling, for instance the ‘confessional tales’ (a practice in some companies apparently, Christina Garsten mentioned). So is this another version of the battles between numbers and stories in companies I wonder? As ethnographers working with companies we often get caught up into this battle. It already starts with something as simple as the number(!) of participants we work with. Unfortunately Christina does not give any directions for steering away from the number thinking we encounter…

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