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Radical transparency is a management approach in which (ideally) all decision making is carried out publicly.

Draft documents, arguments for and against a proposal, the decisions about the decision making process itself, and final decisions are all publicly accessible and remain publicly archived.

Exceptions to full transparency typically include data related to personal privacy, security, and passwords or keys necessary for access required to carry out publicly negotiated decisions. Technical actions perceived to be controversial or political are considered to lack legitimacy until a clear, radically transparent decision has been made concerning them.

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Empirical tests

A radically transparent approach has been implemented in many free and open source software projects, as well as many other Internet-based collaborative projects. It could arguably be claimed to exist outside of the Internet in small cohesive social groups where information is rapidly exchanged and difficult to conceal, although the cumulative transmission error of oral communication of information in these communities leads to less transparency than digital communication.

A partial form of radical transparency has existed in many national parliaments since the beginning of the modern parliamentary system; e.g., in parliaments of the Westminster system, full records of discussions in parliament are recorded and published and referred to as Hansard, and 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. In other words, radical transparency is necessary, but not sufficient, for public participation in political decisions.

Radical transparency versus accountability

Radical transparency is much more transparent than accountability. It requires decision making to be transparent right from the beginning of the decision making process, while accountability is a process of verifying the quality of decisions or actions after they have been taken. This difference implies that while accountability generally implements some sort of punishment mechanism against individuals or institutions judged to have taken poor quality decisions or actions, after those decisions have been taken or actions carried out, radical transparency encourages corrections and improvements to decisions to be made long before poor quality decisions have the chance to be enacted. Hence, radical transparency potentially helps avoid the need for punishment mechanisms.

The potential of radical transparency to allow corrections and improvements to decision making is likely to be higher when the decision making method is either a consensus decision making method or a democratic decision making method. However, even when the decision making method is authoritarian (unilateral), radical transparency may still encourage the decision maker to make better decisions.

Transparency and the Internet

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."[1]

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