Infotopia – Unleashing the Democratic Power of Transparency

Archon Fung has just published a new paper in Politics & Society, “Infotopia: Unleashing the Democratic Power of Transparency”.

Abstract

In Infotopia, citizens enjoy a wide range of information about the organizations upon which they rely for the satisfaction of their vital interests. The provision of that information is governed by principles of democratic transparency. Democratic transparency both extends and critiques current enthusiasms about transparency. It urges us to conceptualize information politically, as a resource to turn the behavior of large organizations in socially beneficial ways. Transparency efforts have targets, and we should think of those targets as large organizations: public and civic, but especially private and corporate. Democratic transparency consists of four principles. First, information about the operations and actions of large organizations that affect citizens’ interests should be rich, deep, and readily available to the public. Second, the amount of available information should be proportionate to the extent to which those organizations jeopardize citizens’ interests. Third, information should be organized and provided in ways that are accessible to individuals and groups that use that information. Finally, the social, political, and economic structures of society should be organized in ways that allow individuals and groups to take action based on Infotopia’s public disclosures.

Read the full paper here [PDF] / ht Alex Howard.

Promise and Pitfalls of Targeted Transparency: A Light-handed Approach to Social Policy

The book “Full Disclosure” is a must read for anybody working with transparency policies.

In this brief new paper, the authors (David Weil, Archon Fung and Mary Graham) discuss the concept of targeted transparency, and shed light on how and when it works.

Targeted transparency represents a more focused approach to public information in which government compels companies or public service agencies to disclose information in standardized formats in order to reduce specific risks or improve services. Such policies are more light-handed than conventional regulation because they rely on the power of information rather than on enforcement of rules and standards or financial inducements to alter choices.

Targeted transparency is frequently used to introduce new scientific evidence of public risks into market choices. As targeted transparency takes a prominent place beside standard-setting and financial incentives as a tool of social policy, it becomes more important to understand when and how it works. Ineffective disclosure requirements can be costly. Forcing companies to collect and disclose information can require substantial resources. Mandated disclosure of incomplete or ou-tof-date information can mislead consumers and create new risks.

Read the full paper here [PDF]

In the video below you can watch a panel discussion on “Full Disclosure” at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government on April 11, with Elena Fagotto, Archon Fung, Mary Graham, and David Weil.