Monday, August 1, 2011

Seeing through Transparency

In the July 25th edition of The New Yorker there is a profile of Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, the world’s biggest hedge fund. Dalio prides himself on creating in Bridgewater, a culture of “radical transparency.” Among the rules of radical transparency in Bridgewater is that face to face encounters are encouraged and behind the back discussions are frowned upon. The goal is to create an organization where there are “no ego barriers, no emotional reactions to mistakes.” There is an implicit linkage between the presumed openness of radical transparency and accountability and organizational effectiveness. As depicted in the magazine article, Bridegwater sounds creepy to me, evoking images of brainwashing, the Cultural Revolution, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but it does stress one of the buzzwords in development discourse that is examined cogently in the Practical Action book Deconstructing Development that is distributed by Stylus.

In his essay on transparency, Jonathan Fox questions the assumption that transparency generates accountability and vice versa. As he notes, transparency mobilizes the power of shame, and truth and openness do not always lead to justice. Fox concludes that the real questions to ask are what kinds of transparency lead to what kinds of accountability and under what conditions. As Jenny Pearson observes in her recent KP book, Creative Capacity Development, her study of her work on capacity building (another development buzzword) for a Cambodia NGO, the historical and cultural contexts in which transparency is constructed are extremely important.

How would you define transparency and in what ways do your organizations promote or hinder transparency? What is the role of transparency in development?

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