Transparency – it must be a good thing, mustn’t it?

Bear with me on this one - we will get round to a serious procurement issue in part 2, and whilst we will start with some government issues, this is not a piece about public procurement!

Transparency has been in the news recently, particularly with the revelations that various UK public sector bodies seem to have acted in self-interest or in some cases just really oddly. Personally, the most disturbing, even more so than the Care Quality Commission "cover up", were the undercover policemen who infiltrated environmental movements (not even serious terrorist cells) and ended up as partners of women involved in the movements, and even fathered children. Rape by the State, as one woman described it, which seemed fairly accurate. An absolute disgrace.

But David Aaronovitch in the Times, (behind their pay-wall unfortunately), as good writers and thinkers do, made me look at this from a different angle. His argument can be summarised as this. Actually, what we are seeing are the dying embers of an old culture as the new world of transparency and openness takes hold. We know more than we ever did about our political masters and the institutions that support them, and this isn't going to reverse itself.

However, Aaronovitch points out a few paradoxes. We think public bodies are behaving worse than in the past, when in effect it is simply that we can now find out what is really going on, which would never have come to light in the past. And therefore although we don't believe things are improving, then they are, precisely because we’re feeling that we don’t have enough openness.  Organisations will have to respond to the new climate or they / or the people who run them - will disappear.

But his final paradox is this - I'm expanding on it somewhat as it seems so important. We would probably assume that we will develop more trust in our institutions as we get more insight and information into their inner workings. But, "trust may not after all be the result of greater transparency and openness" as Aaronovitch puts it.

What if the more we know about organisations, the less we like, trust or respect them? If we know exactly how our police forces or councils work, will we think more of them or less?  Let's be honest, there are plenty of individuals who we like at first meeting and actually as you get to know them, work with them.. it doesn't always go in the positive direction.

Now the problem he highlights may be simply transitional. Perhaps as organisations respond to the need for transparency, there will be some pain but quickly we will reach a new equilibrium of better behaviour and growing public trust. But, maybe not...

So in part 2 we will (and about blooming time, I hear you say) look at the implications of these phenomena for our procurement and supply chain world.

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  1. Market Dojo:

    This is a very interesting post and an insightful comment – “trust may not after all be the result of greater transparency and openness”.

    We have seen this many times in eSourcing. Traditionally an RFQ was run on a ‘3 bids and a buy’ and was carried out (and in many cases still is) by sending out a RFQ by mail or email. The suppliers then send in the replies and that is the end of the process in a lot of cases with only the winning supplier finding if they had won (well, that was the process at Rolls Royce when I was there but I am sure things have moved on…)

    Anyhow, with eSourcing nowadays and increased transparency, trust is not always immediately forthcoming.

    Indeed we receive comments from new suppliers to eSourcing that they are not keen on the new process. Initially we find this somewhat bemusing as they receive much more feedback then a traditional approach especially if there is an open auction where they can see the lead bids or an RFQ where they can see their rank. However what we find is that only after some time do suppliers genuinely like and trust the process.

    The reason being is that the transparency alone is not enough to generate trust in this process but it only comes after understanding the other benefits such as increased efficiency and more importantly from the interactions with the client when they can see that the process is fair and there to help everyone involved.

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