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Organizational Transparency: Practices, Governance, Trust

Talks by Lars Thøger Christensen (Copenhagen Business School) and Daniel Neyland (Goldsmiths)
When May 31, 2017
from 12:00 PM to 02:00 PM
Where SG2, Alison Richard Building
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Peering into Transparency: Challenging Ideals, Proxies, and Organizational Practices

Lars Thøger Christensen (Copenhagen Business School)

The current emphasis on organizational transparency signifies a growing demand for insight, clarity, accountability and participation. Holding the promise of improved access to valid and trustworthy knowledge about organizations, the transparency pursuit has great potential for enhanced organizational effectiveness and widened democratic practice. Yet, with its most common operationalization, as information, transparency reinstalls a “purified” notion of communication devoid of mystery, inaccuracy and (mis)representation. We apply transparency to itself by unpacking its implicit model of communication and critiquing its obliviousness to the representative nature of transparency-related messages and the attendant complexities of motivation. This critique interrogates the ambiguities and ambivalence of the transparency pursuit and demonstrates how the goals of organizational transparency are counteracted by new types of opacity.


Getting close to the politics of transparency in valuation practices: a study of the UK Research Excellence Framework

Daniel Neyland (Goldsmiths)

The rise to prominence of research on valuation in the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS) in recent years, has often been organised around a principle of questioning ‘How does something come to count as a value?’ (Dussauge, Helgesson and Lee, 2015). Within public sector practices of valuation, emphasis is often placed on particular forms of accountability and transparency. In this way, it is insufficient for a matter of concern to be merely counted; the process of counting is inextricably intertwined with questions of how the counting forms accounts (a means by which the matter counted is also held to account) and is involved in the distribution of accountability (a means by which responsibility for counting and accounting is distributed and assessed).

Questions of transparency are then frequently focused on what ought and ought not to be made available to audiences outside the immediate practices of counting, accounting and accountability. It is seldom the case that transparency simply means providing a window through which to openly view counting, accounting and accountability up-close and in real time. Instead, continual discussions take place regarding the extent to which information is made available, in what form, to whom, for what purpose, in order to fulfil what normative expectations. In the move to engage with the politics of valuation, this paper thus seeks to ask: ‘What different forms of politics are part of and performed by making practices of valuation transparent?’

In posing this question, the paper is now faced with the task of understanding how forms of valuation (counting and accounting) and forms of politics (accountability and transparency) are entangled or perhaps even mutually engaged in the composition of consequences. This paper takes as its focus the Research Excellence Framework (REF), the latest incarnation of over 30 years of research valuation of UK academia. The research has involved 34 long, semi-structured interviews with REF Main Panellists and Sub-Panellists, members of HEFCE (in charge of overseeing the REF), impact assessors and various other academics entangled in the valuation process. The paper engages with this corpus of over 1000 pages of interview transcript, carefully navigating the sensibilities of valuation and politics at work, setting out a study of accountability and transparency in practice. This includes a reflexive question of what, from the many pages of interview transcript, should and can(not) be made public.


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