The Perils and Promise of Transparency
By Archon Fung, Mary Graham, and David Weil
In this book, co-authored by the three co-directors of the Transparency Policy Project, we make our most complete argument to date that the careful disclosure of factual information can create incentives that improve public health and safety and further democratic processes. At best, businesses and government officials respond to comparisons of product quality, services and agencies' track records by reducing risks to the public and improving performance. Over the last three decades, such transparency policies have become a mainstream social policy tool.
Transparency policies have also proven versatile. They span dozens of policy domains - from food safety and nutritional labeling, drinking water contaminant reports and car safety ratings to bank lending and campaign finance disclosures to improve fairness and reduce corruption. Such policies work locally, nationally and internationally.
However, our research suggests that such uses of targeted transparency more often fail than succeed. Our analysis of 18 major policies—both national and international -- explains why. Our framework sets forth the sequence of steps that leads to effective transparency and shows the importance of making information available when, where and how users need it.
Finally, we suggest that a new generation of web-based transparency initiatives is beginning to complement, expand and sometimes improve on traditional public disclosure of risk and performance information. Networked transparency platforms allow consumers and citizens to share their experiences with such problems as drug side effects, car safety defects and hospital errors to provide new early warnings that can save lives.