Radical transparency is a phrase used across fields of governance, politics, software design and business to describe actions and approaches that radically increase the openness of organizational process and data. Its usage was originally understood as an approach or act that uses abundant networked information to access previously confidential organizational process or outcome data.
History and Uses
Modern usage of the term radical transparency coincided with increased public use of Information communications technologies including the internet. Kevin Kelly argued in 1994 that, “in the network era, openness wins, central control is lost.”:p.116 David Brin’s writing on The Transparent Society re-imagined the societal consequences of radical transparency remixing Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. However, the explicit political argument for “radical transparency” was first made in a 2001 Foreign Affairs article on information and communication technology driving economic growth in developing regions. In 2006 Wired’s Chris Anderson blogged on the shift from secrecy to transparency blogging culture had made on corporate communications, and highlighted the next step as a shift to ‘radical transparency’ where the “whole product development process [is] laid bare, and opened to customer input.” By 2008 the term was being used to describe the WikiLeaks platform that radically decentralized the power, voices and visibility of governance knowledge that was previously secret.:p.58
Radical Transparency Contexts
Radical Corporate Transparency
Radical corporate transparency, as a philosophical concept, would involve removing all barriers to free and easy public access to corporate, political and personal (treating persons as corporations) information and the development of laws, rules, social connivance and processes that facilitate and protect such an outcome.
Radical transparency has also been explained by Dan Goleman as a management approach where (ideally,) all decision making is carried out publicly. Specific to this approach is the potential for new technologies to reveal the eco-impact of products bought to steer consumers to make informed decisions and companies to reform their business practices.
In traditional public relations management, damage control involved the suppression of public information. But, as observed by Clive Thompson in Wired, the Internet has created a force towards transparency: "[H]ere's the interesting paradox: The reputation economy creates an incentive to be more open, not less. Since Internet commentary is inescapable, the only way to influence it is to be part of it. Being transparent, opening up, posting interesting material frequently and often is the only way to amass positive links to yourself and thus to directly influence your Googleable reputation. Putting out more evasion or PR puffery won't work, because people will either ignore it and not link to it – or worse, pick the spin apart and enshrine those criticisms high on your Google list of life." Mark Zuckerberg has opined that "more transparency should make for a more tolerant society in which people eventually accept that everybody sometimes does bad or embarrassing things."
Radical Political Transparency
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A partial form of radical transparency was instituted into parliaments of the Westminster system, through full records of discussions in parliament, recorded and published in what is referred to as Hansard, while the texts of proposed laws and final laws are all, in principle, public documents.
Since the late 1990s, many national parliaments decided to publish all parliamentary debates and laws on the Internet. However, the initial texts of proposed laws and the discussions and negotiations regarding them generally occur in parliamentary commissions, which are rarely transparent, and among political parties, which are very rarely transparent. Moreover, given the logical and linguistic complexity of typical national laws, public participation is difficult despite the radical transparency at the formal parliamentary level. In other words, radical transparency is necessary, but not sufficient, for public participation in political decisions.
The idea of radical transparency does not have to be diametrically opposed to the goals of privacy advocates. The radical transparency activist Julian Assange commented that the amount of secrecy or privacy an individual or organization is entitled to should be inverse to their power.
Radical Open Source Transparency
A radically transparent approach has been implemented in many free and open source software projects, as well as many other Internet-based collaborative projects. It could arguably be claimed to exist outside of the Internet in small cohesive social groups where information is rapidly exchanged and difficult to conceal, although the cumulative transmission error of oral communication of information in these communities leads to less transparency than digital communication.[original research?]
Radical Educational Transparency
A radically transparent approach is also emerging within education. Open Educational Resources (OER) are freely accessible, usually openly licensed documents and media that are useful for teaching, learning, educational, assessment and research purposes. Although some people consider the use of an open format to be an essential characteristic of OER, this is not a universally acknowledged requirement. In addition online courses activities are also becoming increasingly more accessible for others. One example are the new and popular massive open online courses (MOOC).
Radical transparency versus accountability
Radical transparency is much more transparent than accountability. It requires decision making to be transparent right from the beginning of the decision making process, while accountability is a process of verifying the quality of decisions or actions after they have been taken. This difference implies that while accountability generally implements some sort of punishment mechanism against individuals or institutions judged to have taken poor quality decisions or actions, after those decisions have been taken or actions carried out, radical transparency encourages corrections and improvements to decisions to be made long before poor quality decisions have the chance to be enacted. Hence, radical transparency potentially helps avoid the need for punishment mechanisms.
The potential of radical transparency to allow corrections and improvements to decision making is likely to be higher when the decision making method is either a consensus decision making method or a democratic decision making method. However, even when the decision making method is authoritarian (unilateral), radical transparency may still encourage the decision maker to make better decisions.
- Corporate transparency
- Open business
- Open government
- Open society
- Open source governance
- Open education
- Hammond, Allen (March/April 2001). "Digitally Empowered Development". Foreign Affairs. Retrieved April 15, 2012.
- Sifry, Micah (2011). WikiLeaks and the Age of Transparency. Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300176766.
- Kelly, Kevin (1994). Out of control : the rise of neo-biological civilization. Addison-Wesley. ISBN 9780201577938.
- Anderson, Chris (November 26, 2006). "The LongTale: In Praise of Radical Transparency". Retrieved April 15, 2012.
- Heemsbergen, Luke (2008), Radical Pockets of Digital Democracy: Deleuzian Grandeur?, Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, August 28–31, 2008
- Bernardi, Richard A.; LaCross, Catherine C. (April 2005). "Corporate Transparency: Code of Ethics Disclosures". The CPA Journal. Retrieved December 25, 2011.
- Ecological Intelligence
- Thompson, Clive (March 2007). "The See-Through CEO". Wired. Retrieved December 25, 2011.
- Gould, Emily (June 12, 2010). "Faith in Facebook". Newsweek. Retrieved December 25, 2011.
- Baltzersen, R. K. (2010). Radical transparency: Open access as a key concept in wiki pedagogy. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 26(6), p.791-809. Retrieved May 13, 2013
- Roose, Kevin (April 10, 2011). "Pursuing Self-Interest in Harmony With the Laws of the Universe and Contributing to Evolution Is Universally Rewarded". New York Magazine.
- The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? - by David Brin
- Radically Transparent: Monitoring and Managing Reputations Online - by Andy Beal and Judy Strauss
- Clare Birchall, podcast, 'Why WikiLeaks might not be as radical as it thinks'
- Clare Birchall (ed) 'Secrecy and Transparency', Theory, Culture & Society, 7-8, Dec 2011.
- Clare Birchall, '"There's been too much secrecy in this city": The False Choice between Secrecy and Transparency in US Politics', Cultural Politics, March 2011.