What’s significant about a report? Managing expectations.
If we think about it, the tangible evidence of any investigation is typically a report. Reports can take on myriad formats and roles. They may be oral or written, but what is consistent is that there’s a communicated expectation established between the requester and the reporter before the transaction gets underway.
For example, a mother calls out to one of her children, “Sally, can you please go to the garage and let me know if the Christmas lights are working?”
Here, this simple inquiry from the mother, or requester, reflects the mother's expectation that Sally knows where to find the lights and has enough physical dexterity to plug them in and test them for operable capacity. Let’s not overlook how Sally, or the reporter, must actually go through several steps in preparing for her mother's report. First, Sally must find the lights, plug them in, and then watch carefully to observe whether they are indeed functioning. Then, what is also likely assumed is that Sally will put the lights back where she found them before delivering the report to her mother. Sally may clarify or negotiate the terms of the report by asking, "Do you want me to check the star ornament as well?" of which the response will affect Sally's report. It is unlikely that Sally will report on the status of the water heater or parked cars also located in the garage if not originally requested.
This doesn’t mean that key pieces of information relating to the household about the water heater or parked cars isn’t present – these items will likely be omitted from the report largely because they were not the focus of the original request and would be considered irrelevant, unless there was a piece of information deemed more important than the other factors (“Mommmmm, it looks like the car is on fire inside the garage...”).
Additionally, if a father calls out, “Johnny, I’m about to leave for the store in five minutes – can you check the kitchen pantry to see whether we have enough garbage bags?” This report is more time-sensitive; Johnny must not only go to the appropriate place in the kitchen to find garbage bags, but he must also make a determination as to how much is “enough.” This is a subtle detail, but implicit in the requester’s inquiry was an assumption of the reporter's ability to exercise individual discretion. Johnny was not specifically told – "Hey, there are only three bags in the cupboard – I always restock when we get down to two, so confirm this number and report back." Instead, Johnny was provided discretion to make the report. Based upon Johnny’s report, the requester will modify their behavior when leaving for the store accordingly.
With our enterprise here, our Board of Trustees and Office of the Chancellor has asked us to study TCU’s relationship with racism, slavery and the Confederacy. We have not been explicitly asked what to specifically report back. Yet, it goes without saying that it is difficult for us to ask of ourselves what must be done. In even asking for a report, the requester often makes assumptions about the ability of the reporter to find, process and deliver information as typically, the requester asks the reporter to do something that they either cannot do or are simply not in the position to do by themselves.
We in the RRI decided to create a first-year survey report in order to provide tangible proof that this initiative was indeed making progress — no matter how slow and steady the work. Skepticism might abound, but one suggestion — should you engage in this work on your own— is to acknowledge that there will be limitations in whatever you decide to report in structure and scope, but these limitations don’t mean that your report cannot provide meaningful information.
As perfect can always serve as the nemesis of the good, consistency in making the effort to report back is what is most important here. Another suggestion would be to relieve the pressure to have one report be singularly perfect; it should be thought of as a working draft, always open to another careful reading and additional edit.
Our first-year survey report will be released and shared publicly on April 21, 2021 on Reconciliation Day after undergoing a thorough peer review from both historians and members of our local community. We plan to heighten awareness about Reconciliation Day through our associated podcast, “Reconcile This!” as we grow closer to the date.