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

Park, Heungsik; Blenkinsopp, John

Authors

Heungsik Park

John Blenkinsopp

Abstract

© 2016, © The Author(s) 2016. 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.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Mar 1, 2017
Journal International review of administrative sciences
Print ISSN 0020-8523
Electronic ISSN 1461-7226
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 83
Issue 1_suppl
Pages 177-194
Institution Citation Park, H., & Blenkinsopp, J. (2017). Transparency is in the eye of the beholder: the effects of identity and negative perceptions on ratings of transparency via surveys. International review of administrative sciences, 83(1_suppl), 177-194. https://doi.org/10.1177/0020852315615197
DOI https://doi.org/10.1177/0020852315615197
Keywords Sociology and Political Science; Public Administration
Publisher URL http://ras.sagepub.com/content/early/2016/04/15/0020852315615197.full
Copyright Statement ©2015 University of Hull
Additional Information Author's accepted manuscript of article published online: International review of administrative sciences, April 2016. Hard copy publication scheduled for 2018 in v.84, issue 3

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