Writing in a book called The Next Ten Years, published last week by the Reform think tank, Chakrabarti said: “Even in the new world of enhanced transparency, there is still a role for the intelligent target.”
While transparency can reveal information of interest to the public, he wrote, not all public data is of equal value: civil servants should “prioritise transparency around data on outcomes, and be clear that the rest is management information for the organisation to do with as it wishes.”
What’s more, Chakrabarti said, transparency can’t always drive service improvements: “Managers need to be held accountable for that improvement in a measureable and time-bound way, perhaps by adoption of an annual performance improvement benchmark.”
Chakrabarti argued that transparency datasets should be designed together with staff, “to garner their ideas and buy-in, and we should test them out on the public to see if they excite or dull the senses.” He added that “transparency without debate seems pointless.”
Sir Suma said that civil servants need to learn the lessons from public service targets when implementing the coalition’s transparency agenda: he warned that transparency, like PSAs, could become an “end in itself”, and said that transparency can be “gamed” if organisations release less useful information.
Transparency can even reveal a lack of accountability, he added: “Once you have armed the public with information, structures need to be in place for them to use it effectively.”
See also Prof Pidd’s Opinion