Transparency as an Instrumental Value

David Heald

in Transparency: The Key to Better Governance?

Published by British Academy

Published in print September 2006 | ISBN: 9780197263839
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734915 | DOI:

Series: Proceedings of the British Academy

Transparency as an Instrumental Value

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This chapter discusses whether transparency should be valued intrinsically or instrumentally, or both. Put differently, it considers whether transparency is a core concern or a building block for other valued objects sought by public policy. The chapter argues that transparency should be valued instrumentally, and that attempts to elevate it to instrinsic value should be resisted. It proceeds on the basis that transparency – the sunlight metaphor – brings great benefits to economies, governments, and societies. However, there has to be sophistication about directions and varieties of transparency and also subtlety about the specific habitats within which they are situated. In general terms, at very low levels of transparency, more transparency is likely to be beneficial. The trade-offs are most apparent when transparency is already high, in which circumstance the direction and variety, not just the amount, of the incremental transparency will strongly influence the relationship between benefits and costs. The tradeoffs analysed in this chapter relate to: effectiveness; trust; accountability; autonomy and control; confidentiality, privacy and anonymity; fairness; and legitimacy.

Keywords: transparency; sunlight metaphor; anonymity; accountability; legitimacy; confidentiality; privacy; trust; fairness; effectiveness

Chapter.  5844 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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