Research Handbook on Transparency
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Research Handbook on Transparency

Edited by Padideh Ala’i and Robert G. Vaughn

In the last two decades transparency has become a ubiquitous and stubbornly ambiguous term. Typically understood to promote rule of law, democratic participation, anti-corruption initiatives, human rights, and economic efficiency, transparency can also legitimate bureaucratic power, advance undemocratic forms of governance, and aid in global centralization of power. This path-breaking volume, comprising original contributions on a range of countries and environments, exposes the many faces of transparency by allowing readers to see the uncertainties, inconsistencies and surprises contained within the current conceptions and applications of the term.
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Chapter 3: Exploring the legal architecture of transparency

Elizabeth Fisher


Discussions about transparency in government abound with architectural metaphors. Making public decision-making transparent is often described as a means of ‘throwing open the door and ‘letting the sunlight in’. In this chapter I move beyond using architecture as a metaphor and analyse how a history of the use of transparency in architecture can tell us much about the complexity of transparency mechanisms in public administration. In particular that history powerfully illustrates two features of transparency. The first is that behind every transparency mechanism are normative assumptions about its purpose and how it will be used. Practice can often be at odds with those assumptions. Second, while transparency is often understood as leading to clarity, in actual fact its operation often requires engagement with the ambiguity inherent in the interrelationships affected by transparency. I illustrate how an appreciation of these two features of transparency can deepen an understanding of how legal mechanisms of transparency operate in public administration through a case study of how the United Kingdom (UK) First Tier General Regulatory Chamber Tribunal (Information Rights) has interpreted Regulation 12(4)(b) of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR 2004). Regulation 12(4)(b) provides an exception to the need for a public authority to respond to a request for environmental information if the request is ‘manifestly unreasonable’.

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