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OpenGov Conversations: Tim Davies on Creating Effective Transparency Policies

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Transparency and accountability are so often discussed in the same breath that it’s not uncommon to find them treated as synonyms. The same is increasingly true of openness and transparency. Yet these three terms, openness, transparency and accountability each refer to distinct parts of a process of bringing about change, and there can be gaps, failures and frustrations at each step of the way. Governments engaging with open data often presenting this as equivalent to transparency. Yet as Larsson writes“Openness might… be thought of as a characteristic of the organization, whereas transparency also requires external receptors capable of processing the information made available” (Larsson, 1998). That is to say, openness doesn’t necessarily lead to transparency unless the information made available is both usable, and there are people capable of using it. This makes the transparency relationship one with two parties: the institution being ‘open’, and the receiver able to make sense of the information provided, encouraging us to ask who an institution is becoming transparent too. For example, greater transparency to elites might have very different effects from transparency that also reaches grassroots communities and a broader base of citizens.

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