Home > 1.Legal Review > Values of transparency as normative basis for open government

Values of transparency as normative basis for open government

The value of transparency serves as legitimate basis of constructing open government. But the value is not uncontested.


Professor Heald and Hood tried to establish the “ontology” of the transparency, describing its historical developments and various dimensions. In the aid of this framework, they distinguished 3 schools of viewpoints towards the value of transparency in literatures. The first school thinks it as good in itself irrespective of other benefits or costs. This absolutist view is restated in legal theory that access to government information is a universal human right regardless of structural and cultural divergence in countries (Birkinshaw 2006). The second school argues that transparency values only in so far as it helps society achieve more fundamental values (Heald 2006). This instrumentalist idea could lead to that transparency right is a proxy of other more critical rights, like right of the person or the property. But “precisely what is instrumental for what, particularly in the functioning of complex public organizations, is much easier to assert than to prove”. The third school is an eclectic one which recognizes intrinsic value in transparency yet trades it off at the margin of other equally important values with which it may come into conflict. But “the difficult question is to identify exactly what those trade-offs are and what are the mechanisms or qualities that distinguish valuable transparency from more negative forms. The values against which transparency has to be traded off are often left implicit”. And the balance “may be time- and place- specific rather than universal.


Out of the summary of Professor Heald and Hood, transparency gains support from political scientists. Professor Beetham demonstrated the necessity of transparency and its correlation with accountability of bureaucracy when he created the comprehensive theoretical framework of bureaucracy. (Beetham 1996). The theory of participatory democracy confirmed that for an effective participatory democracy the transparency of different authorities is necessary (Pateman 1970). Transparency is also regarded as a way to enhance government efficiency as well as effectiveness by new public management theories (Goodin and Klingemann 1996). In Chinese scholarship, transparency is recognized as a vital means to realize political development (Hu 2005). It is also considered indispensable for underpinning the growing citizen participation in public administration in China today (Li 2004).



Birkinshaw, P. (2006). “Freedom of information and openness: Fundamental human rights?”Administrative Law Review 58(1): 177-218 Heald, D. (2006). Transparency as an Instrumental Value. Transparency : the key to bettergovernance? C. Hood and D. Heald, Oxford ; New York. Published for the British Academy by OxfordUniversity Press

Beetham, D. (1996). Bureaucracy. Buckingham, Open University Press


Pateman, C. (1970). Participation and democratic theory. Cambridge [Eng.], University Press


Goodin, R. E. and H.-D. Klingemann, Eds. (1996). A New handbook of political science. Oxford, Oxford University Press


Li, T. (2004). 现代公共行政中的公民参与. Beijing Shi, Jing ji guan li chu ban she


Hu, X. (2005). 政务公开与政治发展研究. 北京, 中国经济出版社

Categories: 1.Legal Review
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