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Differences between transparency and disclosure.

Understanding when disclosure satisfies the notion of transparency assists in adequately analyzing efforts of public officials to increase transparency by demanding more disclosure.

In the middle of town, in a tiny room sits a person watching a screen for an important message which they should immediately give to the general public. In designing the room public officials considered two possibilities for achieving the end goal of informing the public as to the contents of the message.
In a first option the watch-person, upon seeing the message, should leave their seat, exit the room, and personally inform the public of the message's contents.
In a second option officials install a window behind the watch-person, allowing passers by to look in to the room and read the message for themselves, and when a message appears the watch-person should also personally inform the public.

Both options satisfy the notion of disclosure, with the same possible effect of important information achieving public dissemination, but only the second option provides transparency.

In option 1 we cannot verify the extent to which the message delivered matches the contents on the computer screen. The public relies on the watch-person. but we can quickly develop criticisms on the efficacy in such a practice. What if our watch-person's brain jumbles words, resulting in their misunderstanding the message and delivering it inaccurately; what if a neighboring town bribed the watch-person to either fail to deliver the message or deliver a false message?

Let me more essentially compare the important difference between the options.

Option 1. Someone may voluntarily provide information which the public cannot verify
Option 2. Someone may voluntarily provide information which the public can verify regardless of disclosure

To achieve transparency requires all parties in question have verifiable access to necessary information. Any time the news reports incorrectly they disclose falsities. How inconvenient then that they rarely provide, in their reporting, access to the evidence they use to proclaim facts. Could a student turn in a research paper without properly presented citations?

In a society which proclaims the virtue of transparency, I wonder why we practice imperfect disclosure rather than necessitating any actual transparency. Technology, particularly software, renders trivial the solutions to this transparency problem.  The problem must lie somewhere else.  One need only watch a commission meeting on purported transparency legislation to clearly see that Commissioners don't want transparency, or that they value their privileges more than their responsibilities.

Transparency in government necessitates public access to information despite the voluntary participation of the bodies or individuals involved.

Any questions?


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