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Staff engagement is a surprise benefit of transparency

Written by CarbonCulture Team from CarbonCulture Team on 8th July 2013

It’s hugely encouraging to see how much attention the ideas of transparency and open are receiving at the moment. Progress on these ideas is now reaching structural levels: UK government placed them at the centre of the recent G8 agenda and are investing deeply in proving new models, businesses like Unilever and Proctor & Gamble have been collaborating on open innovation for years and are experimenting with new ways to collaborate more openly, the open access publishing model now being progressed by the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council will open up scientific knowledge and reduce the cost of innovation, especially in healthcare. 

In terms of innovation, this is hugely exciting: it’s been over 500 years since the principle of patents was turned into a workable practice, and it feels like just now we’re feeling our way around the next evolution of cultural conventions for innovation. Transparency can take us a long way in the long term, but our experience suggests that there are plenty of practical, immediate benefits to transparency that organisations can unlock today. Sometimes these are unexpected, and sustainability provides a very powerful area for experimentation.

For example, when we started working with UK Government, using CarbonCulture to publish their energy and carbon information in real time, this was an innovative policy led by the Prime Ministers Office at Number 10, and the benefits were not yet quantified. The theory was that if energy and carbon information were not only published, but made highly visible on Departments’ public homepages, it could quickly lead to performance improvements as sustainability came under greater scrutiny from senior staff and communications teams. 

And that was certainly what happened. Heating strategies were adjusted, mechanical faults were found, data inconsistencies were fixed - and most of these outcomes came about very quickly. In DECC, they found a 10% saving of their total gas demand in less than a fortnight. Members of the public wrote in to point out potential savings. Estates teams found themselves having new and valuable conversations with leadership teams. Across all of Whitehall, all departments saved over 10% of total energy demand during this period.

One key piece of learning here was that transparency turned out to be a very powerful tool for internal engagement - an outcome that is often overlooked, in addition to disseminating learning externally. This very visible publication of data became a clear commitment from the leadership of each organisation to improve, which made it easy for staff across each business to take efficiency to heart.

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