The Many Dimensions of Transparency: A Literature Review

17 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2018

See all articles by Daniel Wyatt

Daniel Wyatt

University of Helsinki - Faculty of Law

Date Written: July 14, 2018


This paper presents, from the perspective of a legal academic, an overview of the literature produced by political theorists and scientists on the topic of transparency. The purpose of this overview is that although legal academics that deal with this topic are generally comfortable with the ins and outs of the legislative frameworks that give life to the concept—for example the UK’s freedom of information law or the EU’s public access to documents regulation—they tend to be less clear about the theoretical underpinnings and real-world manifestations of increased transparency. Given that legal academia is ill-equipped to respond to such concerns, recourse must therefore be had to literature in the political sciences on the topic.

To achieve the paper’s modest goal, numerous posited definitions of transparency are first outlined. Secondly, transparency’s relationship with the concepts of accountability, legitimacy and trust are then discussed. Finally, the potentially ‘negative’ aspects of the concept are analysed, for example that increased transparency leads to extreme position-taking in decision-making institutions or to decreased efficiency of decision-making processes. The ultimate conclusion of the paper is that transparency is still a vaguely understood and largely under-researched concept—particularly from an empirical perspective—and that its operation is almost entirely context-bound.

Keywords: transparency, EU law

Suggested Citation

Wyatt, Daniel, The Many Dimensions of Transparency: A Literature Review (July 14, 2018). Helsinki Legal Studies Research Paper No. 53. Available at SSRN: or

Daniel Wyatt (Contact Author)

University of Helsinki - Faculty of Law ( email )

Porthania 5th Floor
P.O. Box 4
Helsinki, FIN-0001 4

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