As you probably know, we run a consulting business (MindWires Consulting) and sometimes work with the companies and schools that we write about here. Consequently, we periodically remind you and update you on our conflict of interest policies. We do our best to avoid or minimize conflicts of interest where we can, but since our system isn’t perfect, we want you to understand how we handle them when they arise so that you can consider our analysis with the full context in mind. We value your trust and don’t take it for granted.
We talk a lot with each other about how to deal with conflicts of interest because we run into them a lot. On the one hand, we find that working with the vendors and schools that we write about provides us with insight that is helpful to a wide range of clients and readers. There just aren’t too many people who have the benefit of being able to see how all sides of the ed tech relationships work. But along with that perspective comes an inevitable and perpetual tension with objectivity. When we started our business together 18 months ago, we didn’t have a clear idea where these tensions would show up or how big of an issue they might turn out to be. We originally thought that our blogging was going to remain an addiction that was subsidized but somewhat disconnected from our consulting. But it turns out that more than 90% of our business comes from readers of the blog, and a significant portion of it comes out of conversations stimulated by a specific post. Now that we understand that relationship better, we’re getting a better handle on the kinds of conflict of interest that can arise and how best to mitigate them. Our particular approach in any given situation depends on lot on whether the client wants analysis or advice.
In many cases, clients want us to provide deeper, more heavily researched, and more tailored versions of the analysis that we’ve provided publicly on this blog. In this situation, there isn’t a strong a direct conflict of interest between working providing them with what they are asking for and writing public analysis about various aspects of their business. That said, no matter how hard we try to write objectively about an organization that is, was, or could be a client, human nature being what it is, we can’t guarantee that we will never be even subconsciously influenced in our thinking. That is why we have a policy to always disclose when we are blogging about a client. We have done this in various ways in the past. Going forward, we are standardizing on an approach in which we will insert a disclosure footnote at the end of the first sentence in the post in which the client is named. It will look like this.1 (We are not fully satisfied that the footnote is prominent enough, so we will be investigating ways to make it a little more prominent.) We will insert these notices in all future posts on the blog, whether or not we are the authors of those posts. In cases where the company in question is not currently a client but was recently and could be again in the near future, we will note that the company “was recently a client of MindWires Consulting”.
Sometimes the client wants not only analysis but also strategic advice. Those situations can be trickier. We want to avoid cases in which we blog in praise (or condemnation) of a company for taking an action that they paid us to tell them to take. Our policy is that we don’t blog about any decisions that a company might make based on our advice. There are some theoretical situations in which we might consider making an exception to that rule, but if they ever do come up in reality, then the disclosure principle will apply. We will let you know if, when, and why we would make the exception. Aside from that currently theoretical exception, we recuse ourselves from blogging about the results of our own consulting advice. Furthermore, when potential clients ask us for advice that we think will put us into a long-term conflict of interest regarding one of our core areas of analysis, we turn down that work. Analysis take precedence over advice.
Getting Better at This
We’re going to continue thinking about this and refining our approach as we learn more. We also have some ideas about business models that could further minimize potential conflicts in the future. We’ll share the details with you if and when we get to the point where we’re ready to move forward on them. In the meantime, we will continue to remind you of our current policy periodically so that you are in a better position to judge our analysis. And as always, we welcome your feedback.
- Full disclosure: Acme Ed Tech Company is a client of MindWires Consulting, the sponsor of e-Literate. [↩]