Targeting Transparency

New paper by David Weil, Mary Graham, and Archon Fung in Science Magazine: “When rules, taxes, or subsidies prove impractical as policy tools, governments increasingly employ “targeted transparency,” compelling disclosure of information as an alternative means of achieving specific objectives. For example, the U.S. Affordable Care Act of 2010 requires calories be posted on menus to enlist both restaurants and patrons in the effort to reduce obesity. It is crucial to understand when and how such targeted transparency works, as well as when it is inappropriate. Research about its use and effectiveness has begun to take shape, drawing on social and behavioral scientists, economists, and legal scholars. We explore questions central to the performance of targeted transparency policies.

Targeted transparency differs from broader “right-to-know” and “open-government” policies that span from the 1966 Freedom of Information Act to the Obama Administration’s “open-government” initiative encouraging officials to make existing data sets readily available and easy to parse as an end in itself (1, 2). Targeted transparency offers a more focused approach often used to introduce new scientific evidence of public risks into market choices. Government compels companies or agencies to disclose information in standardized formats to reduce specific risks, to ameliorate externalities arising from a failure of consumers or producers to fully consider social costs associated with a product, or to improve provision of public goods and services. Such policies are more light-handed than conventional regulation, relying on the power of information rather than on enforcement of rules and standards or financial inducements….”

See also the Transparency Policy Project at