Friday, June 14, 2013

What’s so good about transparency?

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos
Our mission is to create innovative technology for people to make their governments more transparent and more efficient. 

Perhaps the benefits of efficiency are more immediately obvious (saving time and money) and we’ll cover them in another post. But what’s so good about transparency?

Let’s have a look. 

Transparency is a hot topic right now. Alongside advancing trade and ensuring tax compliance, promoting greater transparency is one of the three key issues, UK PM, David Cameron, wants to achieve progress on at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland.

This is nothing new. As far back as 2011, in an article for The Telegraph, he said we are creating a new era of transparency. Here, David Cameron hails the age of big data as nothing less than a revolution that profoundly impacts us in four ways.

First, transparency offers us greater choice. For example, when up-to-date information is shared, parents and patients can choose better schools for their kids and better hospitals for medical treatment. 

Second, transparency raises standards. Why? Well evidence shows that when professionals know how well others are performing, they raise their game.

Third, greater transparency can help us fix our economies. It saves money, avoids waste and prevents repetition. And it can help tax payers get better value for their money. 

Finally, transparency can help boost enterprise. How? By empowering entrepreneurs to create new apps, websites and online tools.

No surprise, then, that cross-bench Peer and UK Digital Champion, Baroness Lane Fox, has come out in support of the UK government’s efforts for transparency to be at the heart of the G8 summit. 

She too spells out the benefits of disclosing information in her piece for Huffington Post’s blog, Transparent information: A resource for change. And, crucially, she moves the discussion on to developing countries where, she notes, greater transparency will help their governments tackle persistent problems, such as hunger and child malnutrition. 

Interestingly, we’ve seen automated elections in Brazil improve child health. Why? Because touchscreens helped illiterate (and therefore also poor) people choose leaders who had their interests, such as free healthcare, at heart.

But the social benefits of opening up governments go beyond health and hunger, notes Baroness Lane Fox. If money’s been set aside for 20 school teachers, yet there are only 15 in place, then corruption is reduced and children can get a better education.

Plus transparency around who owns and profits from companies can help governments tackle tax avoidance and increase revenues. According to Lane Fox, the sum total lost by developing countries to tax havens amounts to more than three times the entire global aid budget.

Making governments more transparent doesn’t sound like a very big deal. But actually when you look at all its consequences, you can see just how important it is.
Hayes Thompson