The Politics of Government Transparency

Course Description: 

Elective Course, Development Concentration/Specialization

Academics and policy makers have started to pay significant attention to how transparent governments are to legislatures, media, courts, and ordinary citizens. Transparency implies opening up the decision making process, as well as publishing reliable and timely data. Without information, citizens are not able to assess the performance of politicians in office and curb abuses such as corruption or rent seeking. Accountability requires some level of transparency. Recent scandals in the United States and Europe about government secrecy raised important issues regarding the nature of public information, as well as the delicate balance between privacy and disclosure.

This course goes beyond the normative assumptions of openness, and examines several questions. What are the dimensions of government transparency? When do politicians have incentives to disclose information, why, and to whom? When does transparency lead to accountability? Are there any unintended negative consequences of openness?

The readings for the course come from an emerging body of work on the topic. In addition to lectures, students will work in teams on concrete exercises related to the political economy of information flows between states and citizens.

Learning Outcomes: 

The course will address the major debates surrounding the emerging questions of how transparent governments should be and to whom. Students are expected by the end of the course to understand the costs and benefits of information disclosure, to learn how to access government information in their own countries, and to work in teams on concrete policy problems.


The final course grade will evaluate the completion of the following assignments:

1) Two quiz tests (10% each) on core concepts from readings

2) One research note or case brief (30%): This short output (around 5 pages) will summarize your efforts to retrieve specific information on government processes, data or institutions in a country of your choice.

3) Final proposal (40%): students are expected to write a short research or policy proposal (10 page) on a topic related to government transparency. Some projects may be collaborative. Please consult with the instructor to obtain approval for the topic as well as for co-authored work.

4) Participation and discussion (10%) To receive the maximum number of points for class participation, you must arrive on time, miss no more than one class, and contribute to the class discussion every week.

5) Bonus for submitting three reading notes (5%)

At the end of the semester, the final score is converted to a letter grade according to the CEU grading scale, as follows:

A 3.68 – 4.00
A- 3.34 – 3.67
B+ 3.01 – 3.33
B 2.68 – 3.00
B- 2.34 – 2.67
C+ 2.33 (minimum pass)

Additional information concerning grading procedures and specifications for turning in the assignments is also included in the CEU School of Public Policy Student Manual.


Some familiarity with quantitative methodology and Public Financial Management issues desirable, but not required.