Thursday, March 10, 2016

On the QT and strictly hush hush

Creative NZ is looking for some new peer reviewers to advise it on who should get funding. Anyone thinking about putting up their hand (you can get up to $40 an hour but the hours are tightly limited) may wonder what they're getting into, so some background.

Over the past decade Creative NZ has professionalised. There have been some positive results (e.g. clearer accountability and priorities) but also some negative ones. Its processes are more complex for users, it's more risk averse, and it's become remarkably protective of any information it receives. Confidentiality agreements are used to control outsiders working with them and to side step what we would consider the intent of the Official Information Act.

This is not just a problem with Creative NZ, of course, it's endemic throughout the public service. Ask any journalist. We had our own experience of it when we asked who had applied for the Venice Biennale gig for 2015. We weren't asking for the discussions or the opinions or the minutes of the meeting, just who had applied. We took it to the Ombudsman but Creative NZ was way ahead of us. All outsiders involved had been tied up with confidentiality agreements from the outset so we got zip.

So you have to ask why anyone would to sign up to be a peer reviewer when they have to agree in writing:

•    to keep confidential all information supplied by Creative New Zealand and any information relating to the assessment of an application (including assessment panel discussions) and to only use this information for the purpose of assessing an application. This means that applications cannot be discussed.

•    to ensure that all such information is stored securely and that it will be accessible to no one but me for the sole purpose of assessment and that electronic material is deleted at the end of the decision making process and any hard copy material is returned to Creative New Zealand.

•    not to discuss or write articles, including social media, on the assessment panel’s recommendations.

•    not to report back to other organisations on the work of the assessment panel.

•    To bite down hard on the green capsule provided should they be detained or questioned outside CNZ premises

As Agent J of The Men in Black said, 'Why the big secret? People are smart, they can handle it.'

Image: Secret Squirrel