Friday, April 10, 2015

Transparency vs Selective Transparency

Do you ever find yourself looking up the definition of a word that you know the meaning of, just to confirm that you understand it correctly or because you are so offended at how someone else has used it, that you can hardly believe you are speaking the same language?
Well, if you haven't guessed, don't be surprised to learn that I find myself doing this more often that you might imagine. Such was the case today when I heard someone use the word 'transparency.' To me, I didn't think I'd need to actually look it up . . . as a kid I can recall staring through a plate-glass window on a rainy day, easily seeing through to the other side. THAT is certainly transparency. Sometimes though, if I maintained my position a bit too long, peering through the glass and breathing too closely, the window would fog up and I'd gradually lose the clarity of my view, but I'd still be able to make out shapes. If someone came in and pulled down the shade, my view would be cut off completely and I'd quickly learn the meaning of opaque (an adjective meaning: not able to be seen through; not transparent.)

Transparency, Selective Transparency, Translucency
Simple Concepts of Transparency,
Quick Refresher Seconds Away

If somehow you've forgotten the differences, don't worry, you need only walk as far as your kitchen and can clear things right up (pun intended). Open the drawer or cabinet or whatever place you keep those various boxes of wraps to protect and preserve your left-overs.

Now, take your mobile phone, wrap it in plastic wrap ('Saran wrap') and you'll quickly understand the true definition of transparency. You can clearly see that you are still holding your phone.

Use the wax paper, however, and you'll see that things get a bit tricky. While you may still be able to tell by the size and shape, and possibly even by looking through the paper if the surrounding lighting is just right, you likely wouldn't want to bet the farm on whether or not the item inside is your mobile phone or a deck of playing cards. That's because the wax paper isn't transparent, but somewhat translucent.

Now, just one more example to drive the full point home. Take that same item and wrap it in aluminum foil and unless you were the one who wrapped it, there really is no way to tell with certainty what is inside. Putting aside the protective thermal properties of the aluminum foil, it is an opaque wrap which will completely block the light and, therefore, any ability for you to see through to what is inside. This is not transparent.

Informational Transparency
I'd like to suggest that there is little difference between physical transparency and the same concepts applied to access to information. When a person or organization communicates their policy or position  as it relates to transparency, I'll remind you to think of the three types of wrap in your kitchen . . . and you can decide for yourself if they are using clear plastic wrap, wax paper or even aluminum foil.

Openness and transparency of information are the only true means to fully understand, analyze and evaluate the trends of any organization. If they seek to withhold full transparency, there is likely a reason. That's where you want to look first — and closest.