Radical transparency in modern usage has been defined as an organizational approach or acts that use rapid and abundant networked information flows to access process and outcome data that were previously confidential (see Hammond, 2001, Sifry, 2011). These radical measures are assumed to emanate from within the the organization as voluntary disclosure. To this regard, Kevin Kelly argued in 1994 that, “in the network era, openness wins, central control is lost”, while an explicit argument for “radical transparency” (Bernardi, 2001) was first made in a Foreign Affairs article on information and communication technology driving economic growth in developing regions.
Believe it or not, before the internet, radical projects of transparency did exist. The (now) boringly ubiquitous Hansard debates that publish verbatim the voices of Parliament offer one such case. The Open Diplomacy that the Bolsheviks and Woodrow Wilson competed for on populist ideological grounds offers another. Interestingly, both these cases commenced from radical actions outside of the institutional umbrella of government. Radical transparency has a sordid history of being involuntary and unwanted. It also has a history of being incorporated into the conduct of governance. How these two specific historical ‘radical’ acts of transparency folded into institutional governance is not just of historical importance, but provides applicable insights for future movements of government and organizational governance that move away from secrecy in search of what is defined as ‘good governance’.
Or at least that’s the notion I’m going to introduce at the Transatlantic Conference on Transparency Research in Utrech in June.