The Difference Between Outreach And Transparency

from the it's-all-the-difference-in-the-world dept

The buzzword in DC these days seems to be "transparency," though it seems like not everyone agrees on the definition of the word. For example, earlier this year, we noted that the press seems to think that transparency means access, even if that's not necessarily the case. Now, as Ed Felten points out, many politicians and the press seem to be confusing transparency with outreach. Specifically, Twitter is full of buzz among politicians these days -- and they're claiming that it's useful for a more transparent relationship with their constituents. However, just because you use Twitter, it doesn't make you more transparent -- it just improves your outreach.
Here's the difference: outreach means government telling us what it wants us to hear; transparency means giving us the information that we, the citizens, want to get. An ideal government provides both outreach and transparency. Outreach lets officials share their knowledge about what is happening, and it lets them argue for particular policy choices -- both of which are good. Transparency keeps government honest and responsive by helping us know what government is doing.

Twitter, with its one-way transmission of 140-character messages, may be useful for outreach, but it won't give us transparency. So, Congressmembers: Thanks for Twittering, but please don't forget about transparency.
It's an important point to remember as we hear more and more politicians claiming to be transparent, when they might really just be focused on outreach.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Mar 9th, 2009 @ 6:12pm

    Lost in Translation

    It's not that THEY don't get what it means, it's that they recognize that most of their constituents don't get what it means. So they can just say they are being 'transparent' and, thanks to a compliant media, everyone will assume that they are.

    Simple, really, in all senses of the word.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Tim H, Mar 9th, 2009 @ 8:21pm

    Transparency might lead to discussion...or even accountability

    ...and when, say, you pass $700B+ of payments to your constituents..or wait, I meant "stimulus"...why bother with all that.

    Think of it from the Congressional perspective...for dozens of years in some cases, you've been able to sneak in millions, or even billions, of our children's dollars to pay back those that support you. How messy would true transparency be for you? No wonder why recent campaign statements about transparency haven't been carried through...the people who actually make the laws don't want to stop the gravy train...in fact, why not load it up even more and speed it up.

    Besides, most of them will be well retired on the generous pensions they set up for themselves (again, on our dime) before the real crap hits the fan...let the next guy or gal deal with it (on lots of our children's dimes).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    Grimp, Mar 9th, 2009 @ 10:21pm

    Agreed. All the new content in the Whitehouse.gov blog is NOT transparency. Give us the raw data and we'll parse it and present it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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