Next Steps on Transparency Research Sketched

24 May 2011

What additional research is needed on in the area of transparency?

Concluding the transparency conference at Rutgers University-Newark May 20, about 70 persons gathered for a session on follow-up ideas, with the remarks of several panelists almost universally preceded by praise for the value of the multidisciplinary gathering. (See overall report in FreedomInfo.org.)

Yamini Aiyar, Director, Accountability Initiative, India, suggested more work on how governments are responding to transparency internally and on resource capacity issues. She, and others who followed, noted that technology is rapidly transforming transparency efforts, with many implications, including about privacy.

Eduardo Bertoni, Director, Center for Studies on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, Palermo University School of Law, Argentina, added that besides looking at privacy issues, attention should be paid to restrictions and exemptions. Bertoni also noted that the impact of the papers given at the conference would be amplified if they are shared and taught.

Maeve McDonagh, a law professor at the University of Cork, Ireland, recommended interdisciplinary work on the impact of technology and of FOI laws. She suggested that attention be paid to the mediating roles of the press and NGOs.

Marcos Mendiburu, social development specialist at the World Bank Institute, noted that country officials routinely ask about the cost of FOI laws and their impact, and advised research to answer such questions, such as impact assessments, implementation issues, and cost. Enforcement bodies increasingly should be studied, he added.

Ideas From the Floor

From the audience came other suggestions, including:

-       a greater focus on the business community and its potentially supportive role,

-       providing more context for data, especially scientific data,

-       watching the enabling environment,

-       encouraging more interaction between the FOIA, budget transparency and technology communities,

-       doing more “deep and long-term” research supplemented by an anthropological perspective,

-       looking at FOI implementation cost issues, and also the cost of corruption,

-       examining internal efficiencies for government itself of greater transparency,

-       identifying other benefits, such as start-up businesses around more open data,

-       supplementing rights-based advocacy with other rationales focused on beneficiaries, and

-       putting together a list of research in different areas.

Conference Chair Suzanne Piotrowski concluded the session, noting that while no “2nd” Newark conference is planned, a variety of other follow-up ideas are being discussed, including regional and thematic meetings.

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