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Tag Archive: Preconditions

OpenGov Conversations: Greg Michener on Creating Effective Transparency Policies

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Transparency is a slippery concept but important enough that it should be handled with some degree of precision. Unfortunately, the concept is often stretched out of shape and credit-hungry policymakers adopt transparency policies with little regard for preconditions. Here I’m going to take a few positions on preconditions, and my underlying point is that transparency is highly contingent. In order for transparency policies to work we need to take a more cautious approach to conceptualizing ‘transparency’ and to understanding the incentives of supplying and demanding transparency.

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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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OpenGov Conversations: Alice Powell on Creating Effective Transparency Policies

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Before delving into how transparency policies work, and under which conditions, we need to unpack what these terms mean for the extractive industry. Transparency policies and interventions are designed to bring light to aspects of natural resource management which have been shrouded in secrecy. This can include the basis on which a certain company was chosen for a project or the tax payments a company has made. Making this information available empowers citizens to ask how their revenues were spent or why a contract went to a certain company. This helps prevent deliberate mismanagement (giving a company a contract because your brother-in-law owns it) and also mismanagement due to lack of competence (local authorities not properly collecting taxes). Our goal is ultimately for all citizens to benefit from their natural resources. Without transparency, this isn’t possible. How can you know a community is receiving the correct amount for its natural resources, if you don’t know how much a company has paid in taxes? Transparency works through small and incremental steps, not as a silver bullet. Transparency policies enable and empower actors to ask the right questions and supports them in their campaign for change.

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OpenGov Conversations: Alexander Furnas on Creating Effective Transparency Policies

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Change is hard, and slow in coming. As Weber famously said, “Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards.” When things do change, they change for a reason. They key for us is figuring out why, and what role transparency plays in that process. The theory of change that I subscribe to is one in which outcomes change when incentives change for key stakeholders. In this light, we must evaluate transparency against its ability to alter the incentives for actors within a system.

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