I'm amazed at how much press the open government partnership is getting, and how many organizations are now working in the 'transparency' space, and how many countries are signing agreements to make their governments and private sectors transparent. Noble. And fantastic in theory. Especially for those who believe sunlight uncovers all ills and such. More transparency, less places to hide, more incentives to be above board, less corruption, greater openness, more engagement and participation, and a better world.
But has anyone tested if this theory holds? How many of the transparency commitments are fruitless signals that promise something they don't deliver?
The accounting literature has done work on this question. Looking at countries that commit to adopt international standards that require lots of disclosure and openness, various authors in this literature have found that implementation varies. And often it varies because a country has norms and values that support secrecy over transparency. My badly drawn diagram sums part of this work, showing that some countries are pro secrecy and conservatism (Latin countries and others) while some are pro transparency and optimism ( the USA UK and Nordics amongst others).
Interestingly we see the pro transparency countries as champions of the transparency agenda and various others forced to sign on. But a signature is just a signal, and if the accounting studies are anything to go by we should expect little more from this transparency agenda in many cases...
Read more (http://media.johnwiley.com.au/product_data/excerpt/22/EHEP0005/EHEP000522-2.pdf and http://www.researchgate.net/publication/228341933_Accounting_disclosure_in_companies_listed_on_the_Egyptian_Stock_Exchange/file/9fcfd50ccf70bd53ef.pdf and http://www.aabri.com/manuscripts/09175.pdf)