FOI Notes: Measuring Transparency, Calls for Papers, Reports, More

21 December 2012

Measuring Transparency:What is Government Transparency?: New Measures and Relevance for Quality of Government,”  by Monika Bauhr and Marcia Grimes of The Quality of Government Institute, Department of Political Science,  University of Gothenburg. The abstract says:

As policymakers and researchers focus increasing attention on the importance of government transparency for accountability and good governance more generally, the demand for greater con-ceptual clarity and authoritative measures of government transparency increases. Transparency advocates maintain that greater access to government information is the sine qua non of greater accountability and better quality of government in the long term. As a concept, transparency is, similar to rule of law or democracy, difficult to capture with single empirical indicators. This paper introduces a set of measures that we argue together capture key components of government transparency: government openness, whistleblower protection and likelihood of exposure (or publicity). The transparency data, collected through an expert survey carried out by the Quality of Government Institute, currently cover 52 countries with additional countries to be added in subsequent surveys. This paper explores these new measures in an effort to determine their validity and robustness.

The conclusion says:

Transparency, despite a surge of attention in policy and academic arenas, has received insufficient, rigorous theoretical attention and therefore remains somewhat shrouded in conceptual ambiguity. Much like concepts such as democracy or good governance, transparency is often discussed in con-junction with a host of attributes considered integral to good government, so much so that they are seldom disaggregated theoretically and empirically. A transparent organization does not by definition have a strong internal audit system, nor by necessity invite constituents, citizens or consumers to participate, provide input, and express grievances. A state may go to great lengths to make in-formation accessible and publically available in a country in which citizens’ capacity to act on the information are low. A first step in the analytical dissection of transparency is therefore to disentangle it from other complementary aspects of good governance (accountability mechanisms, participatory arrangements), as well as from the societal preconditions that shape whether transparency and other institutional arrangements operate as intended.

This paper seeks to contribute to this conceptual debate, advancing a definition of transparency that consists of three dimensions: government openness, whistleblower protection, and publicity. We also carry out a first cut analysis of data yielded from a survey asking public administration experts to make an assessment on each of these three dimensions. Though still in need of addition-al confirmatory analyses, the data seem (thus far) credible in light of existing qualitative and quantitative data and perform largely in concurrence with theoretical predictions and available data on the countries studied. Countries rated as more transparent along the dimensions of access to information and publicity also tend to have less corruption, and to a greater extent honor other basic human rights and liberties. To reiterate, we do not see the analyses presented here as supporting causal arguments. Government openness may aid in curbing corruption and bringing about better quality of government, but the two may also simply arise in a large process of political development. We have argued elsewhere that there are compelling reasons to doubt that transparency re-forms will, independent of other factors, eradicate corruption (Bauhr and Grimes 2011).

The predictions regarding transparency in both academically and in policy discussions contain a host of assumptions that most certainly require continued investigation. The Quality of Government’s survey offers one attempt at measuring transparency levels at the country level, but continued attempts to construct indicators and collect more and more reliable data are in order.

Open Data: A special issue of the Journal of Community Informatics explores the promise and practice of Open Government Data (OGD), beginning with an overview article by Tim G. Davies and Zainab Ashraf Dawa.

United States: The 18-month-old FOIA Project announced enhancements: “improving the search tools, expanding coverage, adding statistics and allowing users to upload their own documents.” The case search tool  permits searches defendant organization and sub-organization, and by the plaintiff’s attorney, among other things. Coverage has been expanded to include district court cases filed, closed or updated any time since Oct. 1, 2004, as well as judicial opinions issued for such cases. The sponsoring organization, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), also recently issued a study showing that there were more court complaints asking federal judges to force the government to abide by the Freedom of Information Act during the first term of the Obama administration than there were in the last term of President Bush.

Call for Research Proposals: The Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy (PCMLP) at the University of Oxford and the Centre for Global Communication Studies (CGCS) at the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania have recently received a grant from the Carnegie Corporation to conduct and promote research on the role of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) in governance and peace-building in Africa, with a particular focus on Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia/Somaliland. As part of this effort they are commissioning research from scholars in Africa and/or from Africa who are interested in working with us to produce high quality research outputs and ensuring they are widely disseminated to key institutions in Africa and beyond. Two calls for submission can be found here.

United States/Leaks:  The Congressional Research Service has updated a report on the relevant rules and regulations on authorized disclosures of classified information, written by legislative attorney Jennifer K. Elsea.

Call for Papers: The Conference for E-Democracy and Open Government is seeking proposals for papers by Jan.  15. See the conference website. The Centre for E-Governance at the Danube University Krems in Austria has been organizing conferences on e-democracy and public administration since 2007. Various tracks are described for the conference to be held May 22 and 23.

United States: The nongovernmental organization OMB Watch does a round-up of transparency developments in 2012. “This year saw clear and important accomplishments in government transparency in several areas, such as improved whistleblower protections and progress on the numerous open government commitments made under the Open Government Partnership. There was, however, a missed opportunity for U.S. leadership at the Rio+20 environmental summit. And we are concerned that undue industry influence in certain regulatory arenas may be reducing public access to information.”

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