Radical transparency is a phrase used across fields of governance, politics, software design and business to describe actions and approaches that radically increase the openness of organizational process and data. Its usage was originally understood as an approach or act that uses abundant networked information to access previously confidential organizational process or outcome data.
Modern usage of the term radical transparency coincided with increased public use of Information communications technologies including the Internet. Kevin Kelly argued in 1994 that, “in the network era, openness wins, central control is lost.”:p.116 David Brin's writing on The Transparent Society re-imagined the societal consequences of radical transparency remixing Orwell's 1984. However, the explicit political argument for “radical transparency” was first made in a 2001 Foreign Affairs article on information and communication technology driving economic growth in developing regions. In 2006 Wired’s Chris Anderson blogged on the shift from secrecy to transparency blogging culture had made on corporate communications, and highlighted the next step as a shift to ‘radical transparency’ where the “whole product development process [is] laid bare, and opened to customer input.” By 2008 the term was being used to describe the WikiLeaks platform that radically decentralized the power, voices and visibility of governance knowledge that was previously secret.:p.58
Radical corporate transparency, as a philosophical concept, would involve removing all barriers to free and easy public access to corporate, political and personal (treating persons as corporations) information and the development of laws, rules, social connivance and processes that facilitate and protect such an outcome.
Using these methods to 'hold corporations accountable for the benefit of everyone' was emphasised in Tapscott and Ticoll's book "The Naked Corporation" in 2003. Radical transparency has also been explained by Dan Goleman as a management approach where (ideally,) all decision making is carried out publicly. Specific to this approach is the potential for new technologies to reveal the eco-impact of products bought to steer consumers to make informed decisions and companies to reform their business practices.
In traditional public relations management, damage control involved the suppression of public information. But, as observed by Clive Thompson in Wired, the Internet has created a force towards transparency: "[H]ere's the interesting paradox: The reputation economy creates an incentive to be more open, not less. Since Internet commentary is inescapable, the only way to influence it is to be part of it. Being transparent, opening up, posting interesting material frequently and often is the only way to amass positive links to yourself and thus to directly influence your Googleable reputation. Putting out more evasion or PR puffery won't work, because people will either ignore it and not link to it – or worse, pick the spin apart and enshrine those criticisms high on your Google list of life." Mark Zuckerberg has opined that "more transparency should make for a more tolerant society in which people eventually accept that everybody sometimes does bad or embarrassing things."
A partial form of radical transparency was instituted into parliaments of the Westminster system, through full records of discussions in parliament, recorded and published in what is referred to as Hansard, while the texts of proposed laws and final laws are all, in principle, public documents.
Since the late 1990s, many national parliaments decided to publish all parliamentary debates and laws on the Internet. However, the initial texts of proposed laws and the discussions and negotiations regarding them generally occur in parliamentary commissions, which are rarely transparent, and among political parties, which are very rarely transparent. Moreover, given the logical and linguistic complexity of typical national laws, public participation is difficult despite the radical transparency at the formal parliamentary level.
Radical transparency has also been suggested in the context of government finance and public economics.
A radically transparent approach is also emerging within education. Open Educational Resources (OER) are freely accessible, usually openly licensed documents and media that are useful for teaching, learning, educational, assessment and research purposes. Although some people consider the use of an open format to be an essential characteristic of OER, this is not a universally acknowledged requirement. In addition online courses activities are also becoming increasingly more accessible for others. One example are the new and popular massive open online courses (MOOC).