HKS Authors

See citation below for complete author information.

Director, Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation
Winthrop Laflin McCormack Professor of Citizenship and Self-Government


This paper explores the dynamics of transparency. It asks why some government-created systems of disclosure improve over time while others stagnate or degenerate into costly paperwork exercises. Transparency policies inevitably begin as unlikely compromises. Though transparency is universally admired in principle, its particular applications frequently conflict with other societal values or powerful political interests. Disclosing information can clash with efforts to protect proprietary information, guard personal privacy, or limit regulatory burdens. It can also clash with central economic and political objectives of target organizations that may view it as a threat to reputation, markets or political influence. At the same time, the benefits of disclosure are often diffuse. Beneficiaries may be consumers, investors, employees, and community residents. Such users are rarely organized to sustain support and oversight of transparency systems.


Fung, Archon, Mary Graham, David Weil and Elena Fagotto. "The Political Economy of Transparency: What Makes Disclosure Policies Sustainable?" KSG Faculty Research Working Papers Series RWP03-039, October 2003.