Transparency is in the eye of the beholder: the effects of identity and negative perceptions on ratings of transparency via surveys

Heungsik Park, John Blenkinsopp

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    2 Citations (Scopus)


    Surveys are a commonly used means of measuring transparency levels, but they are potentially vulnerable to perceptual biases. This study sought to examine perceptual differences by the respondents’ identities as general citizens or public employees, and the possible negative perceptions that one group may have of the other concerning responses to a survey-based measure of transparency. The survey was designed on the basis of existing literature, suggesting that transparency has up to six facets. Two samples were taken: from citizens who visited district offices to file civil applications during the survey period; and from public employees involved in processing these applications. A total of 472 surveys were used for analysis: 233 citizens and 239 public employees. The results indicated that the two groups had different understandings of transparency. Data from public employees produced a three-factor solution, which was labeled as Efficiency, Reliability, and Access. For citizens, a two-factor solution was a better fit, with the factors being described as Accessibility (a wider notion than Access) and Utility. The findings suggest that public employees adopt a somewhat technical view of transparency, whereas citizens have more practical concerns about it. Only citizens’ unfavorable perception of public employees had a negative influence on the level of transparency. This study contributes to the understanding of how public employees and citizens have qualitatively different perceptions of transparency. Points for practitioners To assess progress in governmental transparency, we must measure it, and surveys offer an accessible and potentially cost-effective approach. However, the survey responses of citizens and public employees show that they understand transparency in qualitatively different ways, with citizens’ perceptions of transparency also influenced by their perceptions of public employees. If governments are to increase public trust in policymaking and administration, they must focus on improving transparency as it is understood by the public rather than how it is understood by public servants.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)177-194
    JournalInternational Review of Administrative Sciences
    Issue number1
    Early online date15 Apr 2016
    Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Apr 2016


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