What is Transparency?

Transparency literally means see-through. It’s derived from the medieval Latin term ‘transparentia’, which translates to ‘shining through’. But what does transparency mean in terms of business or government, and why is it so important?

In a general sense, transparency ensures that goals and intentions can be understood even from an outside perspective, with those involved at upper levels held clearly accountable. It’s important for reducing corruption and bribery, and is a helpful indicator of whether an organisation can be trusted.

👉 Ethically, it’s a good idea to find out whether an organisation is upfront and open about its actions. Do they match up to its values, or are they simply paying lip service for the purpose of political point-scoring?

For example, FIFA were dogged by accusations of corruption for years before the FBI began their bribery investigation against its president, Sepp Blatter, in 2015. His successor, Gianni Infantino, promised transparency – yet the organisation went on to remove the word corruption from their code of ethics in 2018.

Infantino was also implicated in the Panama Papers scandal in 2016, while he was interviewed by the investigatory chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee in the same year. They found he had billed FIFA for everything from mattresses to an exercise machine in his home. He’s still the president as of December 2019.

Discrepancies like the above are relatively commonplace without enough transparency. Despite many organisations becoming increasingly liberal publically, it isn’t always in their best interests to be open and honest about their aims – especially when they have the power to really impact on individuals’ lives.

Tech giants have amassed massive amounts of data about the average individual, and they’re not always transparent about what they collect, or what they do with it. Facebook is always keen to note that their product is social media, rather than user content. Of course, social media is user-generated content, so it’s hard to trust the company, no matter how many transparency reports they produce.

With a little research, it’s easy enough to find out whether a particular body is transparent, or at least if they previously have been. However, most consumers are apathetic as long as the service or organisation appears to be working on the surface. After all, there isn’t enough time to ensure everything we use comes from a transparent source. But it’s worth considering what ethical stance ‘shines through’ when their actions are taken into account, and who ultimately benefits? 👇

Transparency can be implemented via government policy, or be adhered to voluntarily. Adopting this model helps build trust, and can improve organisations and services in the long run. It’s also relevant that employees and customers are increasingly more demanding, while social media allows frustrations to be vented publicly and instantly.

On the other end of the scale, there’s hyper-transparency. Though almost everything is justified within this method, it wouldn’t be workable for many businesses and organisations; pragmatically speaking, we need just enough transparency to ensure that companies aren’t working against us.

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