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Aim for full transparency – accept exceptional translucency

Page history last edited by Mary Murphy 8 years, 2 months ago




Moderator: Pete Cranston, co-director, Euforic Services, Oxford
Veronica Cretu, President, Open Government Institute (Moldova)
Nigel Hickson, Vice-President, UN and IGO Engagement, ICANN
Avri Doria, Principal Researcher, Technicalities
Kari Tapiola, Special Adviser to the Director-General, ILO 




Transparency is essential for robust and effective Internet governance. It is particularly important in multistakeholder spaces that typically do not have procedural mechanisms to ensure procedural transparency and due process. While full transparency should be a default operational mode, in some cases a ‘translucent’ approach could be considered (e.g. limited public participation in deliberation with full publicity of results of deliberations). This session will aim to establish criteria for determining the level of transparency needed (e.g. full transparency with transcription, access to documents, etc.). It will rely on experiences from the Open Governance Partnership and ILO communities.


Session notes 


The session concerned the topic of transparency and translucency, moderated by Pete Cranston. The workshop first tackled, in general terms: What is the impact of transparency and translucency on procedural robustness? Which criteria determine transparency levels? And which practical mechanisms are required? Break-out sessions to discuss each of these three questions followed the panel presentations.


Taking the floor, Avri Doria, prinicipal researcher, Technicalities, gave an overview of the levels of transparency in three organisations she was involved in: the IETF (the Internet Engineering Task Force, where she started her participation as a development engineer), ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, where she was involved through the Numbers Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) council as a representative of the Non‑Commercial Stakeholder Group (NCSG) and previously as chair of the GNSO Council), and the IGF (Internet Governance Forum, where she was involved in its Secretariat, and a few days ago, elected to its Multistakeholder Advisory Group - MAG). She described the IETF as always being more transparent than most organisations. Through its bottom-up approach, anyone could see it and participate in it. She said that some people were critical of the huge amount of information, mostly through transcripts, that was made available. Only very few people ‒ mostly researchers ‒ would actually go to the trouble of reading the entire transcripts. However, the fact that these were available, even if only 1‒2 researchers would read it in years, made this worthwhile. The IETF, therefore, was really fulfilling the role of maximal transparency.


ICANN was making its way. The GNSO for example, is maximally transparent. All meetings are made available, all working group mailing lists are open. Nothing is done in an opaque manner. However, this is not consistent across the way at ICANN. The Board is getting more transparent; the community is making demands.


The IGF is probably less evolved than most. The MAG, which started off as being opaque, now has open consultations. It still has a problem with having a UN-way of thinking: early discussions are not made available as otherwise it wouldn’t be able to have ‘true discussions’.


Nigel Hickson, Vice-President, UN and IGO Engagement, ICANN, made the point that transparency must be linked to accountability and that without transparency there can be no trust. In ICANN there is transparency to the point that meetings, boards, and even financial plans or performance measures are published. Also, to Hickson, transparency is a part of proficiency and all organisations need to be transparent if they want to be accountable and trusted.

Cranston added to this that it also has to be thought of how the management of transparency has changed. Nowadays, in the generally open environment of social media, people can twitter from sessions, so people outside get information during the sessions and not afterwards.


Kari Tapiola, Special Adviser to the Director-General at the International Labour Organization (ILO) argued that it is not always obvious to put government and transparency together. He made the point that ‘maybe we need to be transparent about what we cannot be transparent about’, meaning that when representatives are sent to negotiate something they have a certain amount of trust and can discuss behind closed doors.

Cranston summarised this presentation by emphasising the need to find a balance between representation and transparency.


Veronica Cretu, President of the Open Government Institute in Moldova, and a member of the Steering Committee of the Open Government Partnership representing civil society, said that government members of the OGP were really committed to transparency, fighting corruption, and engaging citizens. The question is, what levels of transparency should governments commit to in their OGP agenda? Cretu described four key dimensions: (i) Data transparency: it is not enough to provide access to data if citizens are unable to interpret the data to influence policy-shaping – this is tantamount to translucency, and not transparency. (ii) Process transparency: once the data and information is in place, such as open data by default processes, there needs to be proper places for discussions. (iii) Strategic transparency: before policy decisions are made and formal documents are approved, there should be a mechanism for governments to feel the pulse of stakeholders. There should be a strategic approach to that. (iv) Transformational transparency: related to social accountability is the need to have a mechanism in place for all stakeholders to be able to monitor and evaluate the quality of the decisions. If governments are ambitious enough and have these four key dimensions in place, the next step is radical transparency, which Cretu describes as ‘painful’. ‘If openness and transparency means pain, then we go for pain,’ she stressed.


Break-out sessions


After the presentations the panellists chose one of the three questions presented at the beginning and participants were given the chance to discuss with them. Doria answered questions by remote participants who were given the chance to ask questions on any of the three subjects.  Public organisations have an absolute requirement for transparency. It is safer to be transparent than to be opaque. Doria believes that the truth is likely to emerge. So where do we draw a line? While in most areas, the border between private and public discussions are clear, there are borderline areas where the dividing line becomes fuzzier. Add contending rights to privacy, knowledge, and public interest, and the matter becomes even more complex. How do we balance these rights? Throughout the discussion, Doria gave examples of how private and public intersect, and how anything that is put in writing can be posted online at any time, at the risk of eroding of privacy rights.



The discussion about the question of the impact of transparency led by Hickson was about inclusiveness and how this can increase participation and contribution. Yet there was also the opinion that in some cases being too transparent can prevent people from discussion, for example, in topics like cybersecurity that are often discussed on a confidential basis. There was also the issue of information overload, and that the way we communicate something could lead to a loss of transparency. Finally, technology itself was discussed and how it impacts the whole process of transparency.


Regarding the criteria for determining the level of transparency, participants agreed that there are limits to transparency. These are related to the fact that we don’t know by whom and how shared information could be interpreted. There are sensitive industries and vulnerable groups; for both, full transparency could be a risk. Also, information is a resource, so we should handle it carefully. The group concluded that the process should be transparent, but not all the contents, and certainly not at once.


The third topic, practical measures, was led by Cretu. She highlighted the importance of the institutionalisation of transparency, that there needs to be a clear plan on how to treat it. Also, it was argued that transparency and access to information is a right of any citizen and creates trust between citizens and government. Finally, a broad agenda on transparency requires new kinds of competences of public servants.



Final comments were made by each of the panellists.

  • Doria made the point that translucency could easily resemble at a puppet show, as people can display what they want.
  • Cretu argued that if we want more transparency, it has to start from each of us.
  • Tapiola made a similar argument as Doria, saying that ‘the more transparent governments are, the more skeptical you should be, because the more one says the more one can hide’.
  • Hickson referred to social media and that for many organisations it is becoming a standard to have conferences with life screening and tweets.


To summarise the workshop it can be said that transparency is a necessary condition for trust but that it has to be handled carefully as it does contain certain risks.



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