Policy Transparency

I’ve always been a proponent of policy transparency.  I figure that if you’re open and honest with people then they are more likely to trust you, and trust from the membership is required for a strong guild.

For the sake of this article, let’s set aside a few things that I’ve written in the past that might suggest that full transparency is not a good idea.  You’ve decided that it is, and now you need to know what that decision entails for you.

What is Transparency?

I’ll crib from the Wikipedia page, which states that transparency (in a social context) implies openness, communication and accountability.  Looking at the related pages on open government and radical transparency, public scrutiny and oversight are also mentioned.

Transparency in the context of a MMO guild is conducting the guild’s business such that:

  • the way decisions will be made is published for the members to see
  • details of specific decisions made are published for members to see
  • members have the right to ask for more detail on a specific decisions
  • the guild leadership is responsible to follow the rules they have laid down for themselves

Let’s explore each in turn.

Openness

For your guild leadership to be open, you need to publish your policies, inform members when those policies are undergoing change, and in some cases inform members when those policies are applied.  This last point only tends to be important for things like kicking a member for a policy violation – application of most guild policies (like loot distribution) is already in the open for members to see.  This is fairly simple if you have an out-of-guild forum: just create a sticky post to contain your policies and when those policies change, let the members know.

You have some flexibility as to whether changes to policies are announced when they are still under consideration (to stimulate discussion among members) or whether advance notice is given once changes are agreed upon.  If you choose the latter approach, your policies should allow for the policy change to be repealed or revised if there is strong dissent from the members.  You should always avoid making a policy change that goes into effect immediately – save these for things that will truly do damage to the guild if not given the standard review period.

Holding regular officer meetings is a good idea – don’t wait until an issue builds to a head and requires an immediate meeting.  Take minutes – rotate this job each meeting so that one person doesn’t always get stuck with it.  If you don’t know how to take minutes properly, learn.  It’s a useful skill that will translate into many real life situations.  Remember that minutes cover what happened, not how it was said – it’s fine to have a heated discussion if people are passionate about a topic, but the minutes should tell the members what the outcome was (or whether the issue was tabled for the next meeting).  By keeping your minutes clear and impartial, there should be no cause for concern with members reading them.

Communication

Just as you need to be open with your members, you need a way for members to be open with you.  There should always be a way for members to bring up a point of discussion.  Again, an out-of-game forum is a great place for this.  Set some ground rules for the discussion – much like the official WoW forums, you’re looking for rational discussion of policies, not hate-filled diatribes or ad hominem attacks.

If your forum software supports it, consider having an anonymous suggestion box.  While no software-based solution will be completely anonymous, it may encourage members to speak up without fear of reprisal.

Policy discussion in your forum should be about large issues: feedback on proposed policy changes, suggestions to change policy, discussion of how existing policy is or will be applied.  Don’t let the forum get bogged down by minutiae that would better be dealt with via in-game whispers to an officer.  If a discussion with a member starts out as a whisper to an officer an then crosses the line where larger questions about guild policy are being raised, suggest that the member collect their thoughts and post on the forum.  Not only will this allow the person to convey their thoughts more completely, it avoids having to re-explain the situation over and over again between officers in-game.

Accountability

If you tackle openness and communication properly, accountability should fall into place on it’s own.  As guild leaders, you have a set of rules, and when situations arise you apply those rules.  Even if the outcome specified by the rules is not the one you like, being accountable means that you apply the rules as written, then consider making a policy change so that the issues doesn’t arise again.

There may be extreme cases in which you can’t apply the rules as written.  Ultimately, the guild master has unitary decision making power.  When this happens, it is best to craft an updated policy, apply it to the situation, then then publish notice of the policy change alongside notice to the members that the old policy was not used and why.  If you are careful in how you write your policies, these situations should be few and far between.

What you want to avoid obviously is not applying a policy to a situation, not updating the policy and not telling the members about it.  If you do that, it’s just going to come around and bite you on the ass.

Public Scrutiny

In the context of a guild, there are two kinds of “public”: your members and everyone else.  Your members should be entitled to much more than the general public, as laid out above.  While you don’t technically owe the rest of the WoW-playing public anything, you should consider the benefit of putting some of your information on the publicly-accessible side of your website.

By putting your full policies on the publicly accessible part of your forum, you ensure that applicants know what they are getting into before they apply.  I’ve applied to a few guilds in my day only to find out after joining that some of their policies were not to my liking.  If I’d known about them beforehand, I might not have gone through the application process.  This will only become more important with Cataclysm and things like the guild tax – you don’t want to find out during your first raid that 10% of your gold is being transferred to the guild bank.

Another thing that in my opinion will improve your reputation on the realm is to publish publicly the outcome of any serious complaints raised against your members.  If someone claims that one of your members ninja’d an item, ask for proof (i.e. screenshots).  If no proof is offered, then create a public post stating that you investigated the claims and found them without merit.  Likewise, if the claim is proven and you decide to reprimand or kick the member, make a public post describing the actions you took.

Rather than airing your guild’s dirty laundry, this shows your commitment to maintaining good relations with the other members of your realm.  People who don’t care for such things will probably just ignore the forum, but those who do will see in your actions the type of leadership they are looking for in a guild.  It will also subtly keep your member aware that their actions reflect upon the guild.

Oversight

Unless your guild is extremely large, you probably don’t need to designate anyone to perform oversight duties.  All of your members are implicitly performing oversight by reading your forums.  Very large guilds may want to assign a group of members to keep an eye on the day-to-day operations of the guild (things like guild bank usage), reporting anything suspicious in an attempt to head off potential malfeasance.

Even in small guilds, certain aspects of guild management may be helped by having someone act as a sounding board for policy application decisions.  A trusted senior member of the guild is a good candidate here – if you’re not sure if you’re applying a policy properly, privately explain the situation and proposed outcome to this member and ask them if they think you’re being true to the policies in your action.  Sometimes being too close to the situation can cloud your judgement.

I realize this has been a bit wall’o’texty – apparently nearly three weeks away from writing has left me a bit wordy.  Hopefully there is something you can take away from this for your guild leadership efforts, and I hope to get back to things a bit less dry next week.

Until Next Time.

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