Governments in recent decades have employed public disclosure strategies to reduce risks, improve public and private goods and services, and reduce injustice. In the United States, these targeted transparency policies include financial securities disclosures, nutritional labels, school report cards, automobile rollover rankings, and sexual offender registries. They constitute a light-handed approach to governance that empowers citizens. However, as Full Disclosure shows these policies are frequently ineffective or counterproductive. Based on a comparative analysis of eighteen major policies, the authors suggest that transparency policies often produce information that is incomplete, incomprehensible, or irrelevant to the consumers, investors, workers, and community residents who could benefit from them. Sometimes transparency fails because those who are threatened by it form political coalitions to limit or distort information. To be successful, transparency policies must place the needs of ordinary citizens at centre stage and produce information that informs their everyday choices.
Archon Fung is Associate Professor of Public Policy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. His research examines the impacts on public and private governance of civic participation, public deliberation, and transparency. He has authored three books, including Empowered Participation: Reinventing Urban Democracy (2004); three edited collections; and more than fifty articles appearing in journals such as the American Political Science Review, Political Theory, Journal of Political Philosophy, Politics and Society, Governance, and Journal of Policy and Management. Mary Graham is a Research Fellow at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Her research focuses on the use of information strategies to foster social change, the politics of public information, innovative approaches to health and safety regulation, and new trends in environmental policy. She is the author of Democracy by Disclosure (2002) and The Morning After Earth Day (1999). Graham has written for the Atlantic Monthly, Financial Times, Environment magazine, Issues in Science and Technology, Brookings Review, and other publications. David Weil is Professor of Economics and Everett W. Lord Distinguished Faculty Scholar at Boston University School of Management. His research spans the areas of labor market policy, industrial and labor relations, occupational safety and health, and regulatory policy. He has published widely in these areas and has also served as advisor to the U.S. Department of Labor, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and other government agencies. He has written two other books (including the award-winning A Stitch in Time: Lean Retailing and the Transformation of Manufacturing, 1999) and his articles have appeared in numerous journals including the RAND Journal of Economics, Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Harvard Business Review, and the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.