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What Tapscott on Openness Means to Government


July 2, 2012

Doug Hadden, VP Products

Don Tapscott claims that the transparency “toothpaste is out of the tube” and we can’t squeeze it back in a recent Ted talk and interview in Brunswick Review.

According to the Brunswick Review, a transparency implication for government is:

“Citizen empowerment: New ways of communicating are shifting power from the ruling elites towards networks of organized citizens. The role of social media, mobile and Al Jazeera during the Arab Spring shows the power of media in the hands of those hungry for change.”

Transparency driving four principles of the open world

Tapscott sees the transparency push coming via the web fueled by demographic changes, the financial crisis and a social tsunami “perfect storm”. He observes that the printing press led to the end of the feudal system towards the industrial age. The Internet enables anyone to be a producer. Tapscott points out that this is not the “information age”, it’s the age of networked intelligence. The result:

  • Collaboration where social media becomes social production – what has been thought as leisure improves productivity and innovation
  • Transparency where institutional fitness is not longer optional because institutions are becoming “naked”
  • Sharing where information in the commons rather than holding “intellectual property” creates the most value and new business models are created
  • Empowerment were the distribution, decentralization and disaggregation becomes powerful

Implication to governments

Tapscott connects transparency and trust in business. This idea applies more in government where there is a trust deficit – some want smaller government, others want more accountability, many think that politicians are corrupt.

“I’ll give it to you in a sentence. Trust in business is the expectation that the other party will have integrity and transparency. The expression, “What are they hiding?” shows the relationship between transparency and trust.”

  • Transparency closes the trust deficit.  The standard for openness in government will only increase. It’s inevitable.
  • Crowdsource or be crowdsourced. Governments need to collaborate with citizens to improve results. As Tapscott points out, the Arab Spring and Occupy movement shows us that social media drops the cost of dissent. Governments need to harness the wisdom of citizens to leverage “cognitive surplus” to improve public policy.
  • Democracy matures from “thin” democracy: elections to something more substantial where citizens and civil society are more empowered and influential. For example, citizen audit may become a civic duty.
  • Sustainable transparency doesn’t mean government business as usual plus transparency. The key mistake made by open data skeptics is that governments cannot afford the long-term costs for transparency. That’s only true if the government “business model” doesn’t change. As, I’ve pointed out before, there is a transparency value proposition.

Governments can innovate to cut costs and improve productivity through transparency. And, in the global economy, countries cannot fall behind in the transparency arms race. Businesses have choices. As I’ve pointed out before:

Transparency is fundamental in many governance valuations used by the World Bank World Governance indicators (WGI) and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). Transparency indicators used to demonstrate reduced business risk and help generate donor funds in developing countries include Open Budget Index for open budgets and Revenue Watch Index for revenue transparency from extractive industries. International transparency standards include the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability (PEFA) assessments are gaining widespread use by donors in making funding decisions. Transparency is a key element for 6 measurements in the PEFA Performance Measurement Framework.







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Doug Hadden

Doug Hadden

Executive Vice President, Innovation at FreeBalance
Doug is responsible for identifying new global markets, new technologies and trends, and new and enhanced internal processes. Doug leads a cross-functional international team that is responsible for developing product prototypes and innovative go-to-market strategies.

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