Transparency in organizations generally falls into one of two categories: proactive and demand-driven.

  • Proactive dissemination refers to information that the organization’s leadership makes known about its activities and performance. Practical expressions can range from strategic and tactical goals, third-party evaluations, and organizational risks.
  • Demand-driven access refers to an organizational commitment to respond to employee requests for specific kinds of information or documents which otherwise would not be accessible.

The idea of transparency can also be unpacked in terms of its directionality. Disclosure cuts both ways, channeling information upwards as well as downwards in the organization. Leadership sharing insight into decisions is an example of downwards, where idea management processes are upwards.

The type of transparency also matters:

  • Opaque or fuzzy transparency involves the dissemination of information that does not reveal how organizations actually behave in practice, whether in terms of how they make decisions, or the results of their actions. The term also refers to information that is divulged only nominally, or which is revealed but turns out to be unreliable.
  • Clear transparency sheds light on organizational behavior, which permits interested employees to pursue strategies of constructive change.

This distinction between clear and opaque is grounded on the premise that if transparency practices are going to meet their goals of transforming organizational behavior, then they must be explicit in terms of who does what, and who gets what.

Transparency requires not only a willingness, but processes to drive it.

Photo by Elena Koycheva on Unsplash

Information Gaps

An information gap is a known unknown, a question that one is aware of but for which one is uncertain of the answer. It is a disparity between what the decision maker knows and what could be known The attention paid to such an information gap depends on two key factors: salience, and importance.

  • The salience of a question indicates the degree to which contextual factors in a situation highlight it. Salience might depend, for example, on whether there is an obvious counterfactual in which the question can be definitively answered.
  • The importance of a question is a measure of how much one’s utility would depend on the actual answer. It is this factor—importance—which is influenced by actions like gambling on the answer or taking on risk that the information gap would be relevant for assessing.

Information gaps often dwell in the land of knightian uncertainty.

Communicating these Known Unknowns

Communicating around Known Unknowns and other forms of uncertainty

A wide range of reasons for information gaps exist:

  • variability within a sampled population or repeated measures leading to, for example, statistical margins-of-error
  • computational or systematic inadequacies of measurement
  • limited knowledge and ignorance about underlying processes
  • expert disagreement.