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Transparency under the magnifying glass – or through the looking glass?

On 18th September we will be launching the Programme’s first joint publication, a book in the British Academy’s ‘Proceedings’ series on the vexed question of transparency.

The book has three aims. One is to trace out the history of ‘transparency’ and cognate doctrines in government and public policy. Where did this now pervasive idea come from? Is transparency an exclusive preoccupation of modern times and democratic government, or does it have an earlier life or lives? A second is to collect and compare ideas about transparency across some different disciplines and fields. Who means what by this term? Do the meanings add up to a single idea, or are they multiple or even contradictory? A third is to take discussions of transparency beyond exchanges or statements of first principles. What does the introduction of transparency in one or other of its forms do to decision-making processes? How do institutions respond to measures intended to increase transparency and with what consequences, for instance in memory, candour, or cost of service?

Transparency: The Key to Better Governance?, edited by Christopher Hood and David Heald, originated in a workshop, co-hosted by the ESRC Public Services Programme and the British Academy, that brought together thinkers from various disciplines to explain their questions. The resulting volume explores many of the inherent tensions in the move towards greater transparency. Does greater formal transparency lead to greater openness in practice or do institutions make compensating adjustments to nullify the efficacy of such policies? Does transparency jeopardise other important goals such as institutional efficiency? And, if transparency leads to negative unintended consequences, should we still want more of it; is there something intrinsically valuable about transparency?

This event will be held in the British Academy, London and more details will follow shortly. If you would like to attend contact the Programme Administrator using the contact form on this website.