Transparency — the availability of information about an organization’s or actor’s internal processes and decisions — plays a major role in theoretical, normative, and policy-oriented discussions on good governance (Hood and Heald 2006; Peters 2011; Torfing et al. 2012). In particular, transparency’s association with the interrelated concepts of accountability, efficiency, and legitimacy has made it a central component, as well as a buzzword, in reforms aimed at improving governmental steering and services and enhancing citizen trust.
In this chapter, we will discuss the role of transparency in analyzing governance from the perspectives of three types of actors: government, public, and civil society and private sector. The central theme is the potential trade-off between democratic accountability and legitimacy on the one hand and efficiency on the other. Through this brief exposition, we aim to clarify some important distinctions, variations, and concerns within the concept of transparency and facilitate further analysis on the role of information in governance theories. In addition, we will show that despite the high expectations from transparency reforms to improve governance, increased transparency can actually have unintended and even negative consequences (Erkkilä 2012; Grimmelikhuijsen 2012; de Fine Licht 2014). To assess and predict its effects, the “empty” concept of transparency should to be filled with more substantive content regarding the type of information, forum, and target audience.