Defining Transparency

First a mild mea culpa. . . In the description of my intentions for this blog, I make reference to "transparency" as one of its themes. It's been recently pointed out by an associate -- Doug Walker -- that I haven't defined the concept or explained my interest. In fact, I don't think I have said much at all about it. So, here is transparency '101'as I see it . . . with help from the seminal book on the matter by Tapscott and Ticoll called  The Naked Corporation: How the Age of Transparency Will Revolutionize Business and from my own notes from a course I teach for Royal Roads University's M.B.A. program in public relations.

Researcher (and now nascent author with Don Tapscott of a new book possibly to be titled Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything) Anthony Williams says that transparency is often associated with the global trend toward openness driven by new information and communication technologies, the spread of democratic norms, and the growing influence of civil society. With respect to a company’s relationships with its publics, I think transparency is best understood as:

  • Making available information relevant to stakeholders and others in their evaluation of corporate conduct and corporate performance.

According to Williams, Tapscott and Ticoll, what people are looking for when they talk about corporate transparency is evidence in corporate behaviour of "openness, candor, commitment to dialogue, willing problem identification, willing problem resolution and a promise of values-driven decision making." Transparency, then, isn't a program, a board function, or a task assigned to the CSR department: It is a method of:

  • Engaging with shareholders and stakeholders

  • Governing an entity

  • Dealing with those affected by the entity's decisions including employees

Now that I think about it, blogging -- when used well (like Dell is doing right now with its battery recall crisis) -- is actually an efficient and potent tool for transparency. 

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