Output Transparency vs. Input Transparency

17 Pages Posted: 19 Aug 2016 Last revised: 27 May 2017

See all articles by Cass R. Sunstein

Cass R. Sunstein

Harvard Law School; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: May 25, 2017


Government can be transparent about its “outputs”: its regulations and its policies, its findings about air and water quality, its analysis of costs and benefits, its assessment of the risks associated with cigarette smoking, distracted driving, infectious diseases, and silica in the workplace. It can also be transparent about its “inputs”: about who, within government, said what to whom, and when, and why. The argument for output transparency is often very strong, because members of the public can receive information that can help them in their daily lives, and because output transparency can improve the performance of both public and private institutions. Where the public stands to benefit, government should be disclosing outputs even without a formal request under the Freedom of Information Act. In fact it should be doing that far more than it now does. The argument for input transparency is different and often weaker, because the benefits of disclosure can be low and the costs can be high. There is good reason for a large increase in output transparency -- and for caution about input transparency.

Keywords: freedom of information, open government, deliberative process

Suggested Citation

Sunstein, Cass R., Output Transparency vs. Input Transparency (May 25, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2826009 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2826009

Cass R. Sunstein (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

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Areeda Hall 225
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-2291 (Phone)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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