Transparency: Clearly Just Another Buzzword

Everybody thinks they have “a good sense of humor.”

But we all know that’s just not true. Some people just can’t get a joke or take a joke, let alone make a joke.

Every corporation, government entity and nonprofit organization thinks they are “transparent.”

But we also know that’s just not true. Despite using that buzzword at every opportunity, some organizations just can’t share the truth about what happens on the inside, or at least not enough of it to satisfy audiences, let alone all of it.

It feels like more often than ever, we’re reading about someone who boasts of a “commitment to transparency” in the process of justifying keeping something away from the public. Even though demand for actual transparency appears high, follow-through appears low. It’s no surprise, given political antics in our society.

Let’s start with the Obama White House. Despite early claims of “transparency,” take a look at this reporting on how the Administration handled requests for information made under the Freedom of Information Act. The key takeaway: In 2016, the Administration spent more then $36 million of taxpayer money denying citizens information.

And then there’s the Trump White House. The President himself claims to be “The Most Transparent President” in U.S. History. But we all know he won’t release his tax returns and the White House keeps visitor logs a secret, amid other new shields.

All you have to do is pay attention to the news and read about local politicians and governments across the country. Every time elected officials get into trouble about allegedly hiding information, it seems they all claim an interest in “transparency,” as if that’s going to make claims go away.

Corporations are no different. They all claim to be “transparent,” just like they all seem to claim to be “great places to work.” Yes, the vast majority of publicly-held companies release only the information that the law requires. For private companies, they aren’t required to share much of anything. If they want to keep it that way, it’s their prerogative. But so many of them, when meeting with employees and customers, will claim “transparency” anyway.

If you’re in a communications role, this is a good time to consider how this is being used where you work. Is the organization living up to the promise?

It’s easy to understand why audiences expect this from those we place our trust. But it has to be more than just a line, otherwise, audiences will, in a matter of speaking, just see right through it.