Government 5 D Transparency, originally published on EPSI Platform, April 2015
Full version of the paper can be accessed from here
“… Transparency is an idea whose time has come”, Francis Maude , Minister for the Cabinet Office, UK Cabinet
Nowadays, many national governments, municipalities, cities have committed to increased transparency. And if one looks, just as an example, at the Open Government Partnership (OGP) platform – even if a young initiative indeed, it managed to bring under the core values of transparency and openness 65 governments from all around the globe in just 3 years. All these governments recognized that a transparent government is an essential element of a free and democratic society.
One would argue that the concepts of transparency and open government have been around in different forms for many years. However, the biggest difference today lies in the technology which could provide, where access is available, citizens with a “truly open and accessible government”. While transparency stands for openness and accountability, it is considered to be the key element that can help governments build trust in their citizens, a very important and yet necessary element for the well-functioning of democracies. Interestingly enough, transparency seems to mean different things to different people, in different parts around the globe. For some, transparency associates with access to information or freedom of information, for others it has to do with fighting corruption, social accountability and/or opening up government data. And by the way, when it comes to data, is putting government data online enough for transparency in government?!
This paper explores on the different types of transparency and explains the interconnections between one another. Data transparency, process transparency, strategic transparency, transformational transparency, and radical transparency – what do all these types of transparency stand for, and how can governments make best use of these approaches and what is the value added for governments to look at 5D transparency – are some aspects which the paper brings some reflections on.
Why address Government Transparency?!
With the advent of the Internet many have anticipated that Internet would completely revolutionize the government and would enable an increased political participation, through e-democracy, e-participation tools. And indeed, today more than ever, civic groups are taking advantage of the potential of the Internet and the technology to obtain greater transparency on the government’s side along with helping to do what governments fail in doing enough by themselves.
Transparent and open government is high on the political agenda, given that it has “the overarching objective of providing open access to (non-sensitive) government information and data for both citizens and businesses; citizens will be allowed to scrutinize “unfiltered” (by government) data and draw their own conclusions; businesses will be allowed to utilize previously hidden public assets for commercial purposes (e.g. building new commercial services)”, as per OECD .
One of the most recent definitions on transparency states that “any attempts by state or citizens to place information or processes that were previously opaque in the public domain, accessible for use by citizen groups, providers or policy makers”.
Embedding the principles of an open, transparent and participative government from the perspective of providing free access to government information and data has become a priority for many governments during the past years. However, among the key attributes of an open government in addition to access to information and data are:
- Robust systems which citizens have confidence in, given that these systems provide vehicles for informed decision making and this leads to increased trust in the government (be it national, local, federal);
- Accountability – or mechanisms implemented at all levels to hold the elected ones accountable for their actions, holding them responsible for executing their power/mandate according to certain standards, provisions, legal frameworks. Providing tools for opening up the government and using transparency to allow citizens to scrutinize decisions made and challenge implementations of reforms and policies, make governments more accountable.
- Another key attribute of a transparent government is being strategic and having a long term vision and perspective on the broader development agenda which is shared by citizens. Ability of any government to adjust to emerging issues, respond and adapt to new circumstances is crucial in building trust. Citizens see either capacity or incapacity of the government to respond to crisis situations, thus, being transparent about the response mechanisms is key.
- Transparency is also about the government being transformational – and with this to enable radical improvement of the service delivery with the on-going input from citizens. Re-thinking, re-transforming and re-designing public services together with citizens creates an enabling environment for them to engage and contribute as well.
- Once the above pre-conditions or attributes are in place, this will lead towards government’s capacity to continuously invest in democratic principles and promote sustainable economic reforms.
In line with the above, it can be concluded that transparency is a multidimensional phenomena. It is not just about the data, or the processes – it is much more than that. Addressing government transparency needs to be made from a number of perspectives, not only from the perspective of access to information and disclosure of government data (most common approach today when it comes to assessing government transparency). As an example, according to global rankings looking at public access to official data, the UK Government is the most open and transparent in the world out of 86 countries assessed. The US and Sweden come second and third in the rankings, however, does this also mean that these governments have, in addition to data transparency, policy development transparency tools, transparency around decision-making practices, accountability platforms available for all and able to generate considerable contribution from citizens?!
Because data transparency is just one element of the broader and a more holistic transparency framework, this paper looks at five key dimensions of transparency as illustrated in the drawing below.
But first of all, let us examine why is this framework so important to look at in details: citizens generally appreciate/assess democratic governments and democratic governance processes are based on two main indicators: “policy performance” (for example, government’s ability to deliver positive outcomes for society and this imply a series of process and content related mechanisms) and government’s “democratic performance” indicator (for example, the degree to which government decision-making processes comply with the democratic principles and values it promotes). And given that for the “democratic performance” indicator the focus is on the process, this takes us immediately to a new dimension of transparency other than data. However, open and inclusive policy making can contribute to reinforcing both policy performance and democratic performance indeed, leading towards strategic and transformational processes. In other words, implementing policies of open and transparent government brings a number of advantages among which:
- an increase in the spectrum of tools/mechanisms via which governments could become more accountable for their actions;
- the opportunity to provide citizens and businesses with ways to create new economic or social activities through the use of public information as well as through the introduction of tools which clearly show how open data is being collected and organized;
- a way to start co-creating and co-designing initiatives together with citizenry;
 Definition used by the World Bank Group as part of Engaging Citizens: a game changer for development?