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Transparency and Public Value—Analyzing the Transparency Practices and Value Creation of Public Utilities

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This article examines to what extent transparency is a condition for the creation of public value. Transparency is usually narrowly defined as a tool for external stakeholders to monitor the internal workings of an organization, but public value management positions transparency as a broader instrument for actively engaging stakeholders. We investigate empirically whether transparency is indeed necessary to create public value, distinguishing between transparency about operational capacity, authorizing environment, and value proposition. We find that more transparent public organizations achieved higher public value scores, especially if they disclosed information about the design and dynamics of their authorizing environment.
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Transparency and public value; Analyzing the transparency practices and
value creation of public utilities
International Journal of Public Administration
Scott Douglas, DPhil & Prof.dr. Albert Meijer
Utrecht University
USBO, Bijlhouwerstraat 6, 3511 ZC Utrecht, The Netherlands
s.c.douglas@uu.nl & a.j.meijer@uu.nl
Abstract
This article examines to what extent transparency is a condition for the creation of public
value. Transparency is usually narrowly defined as a tool for external stakeholders to monitor
the internal workings of an organization, but public value management positions transparency
as a broader instrument for actively engaging stakeholders. We investigate empirically
whether transparency is indeed necessary to create public value, distinguishing between
transparency about operational capacity, authorizing environment, and value proposition. We
find that more transparent public organizations achieved higher public value scores, especially
if they disclosed information about the design and dynamics of their authorizing environment.
To cite this article: Scott Douglas & Albert Meijer (2016): Transparency and Public Value—
Analyzing the Transparency Practices and Value Creation of Public Utilities, International
Journal of Public Administration, DOI: 10.1080/01900692.2015.1064133
1
Introduction
Transparency is primarily viewed as a tool for external stakeholders to monitor the internal
workings of an organization, prevent corruption, and ensure due process (Hood & Heald,
2006; Meijer, 2012; Grimmelikhuijsen & Meijer, 2014). This definition of transparency
positions the organization as a passive agent providing the information for scrutiny by
external stakeholders. However, transparency could also be seen as a tool for public
organizations to actively collaborate with their stakeholders. This broader approach to
transparency resonates with alternative approaches to public management such as new public
governance, collaborative innovation, and public value management (Moore, 1995; Talbot,
2010, Sorensen, 2012).
In public value management, Mark Moore argues that public managers should be
“orchestrating the processes of public policy development, often in partnership with other
actors and stakeholders” (Benington & Moore, 2010: 4). Transparency is a key part of this
process; public managers are expected to constantly inform and educate their stakeholders,
going beyond their legal obligations for information disclosure (Moore, 1995; Roberts, 2006;
Stoker, 2006). Transparency is here understood to be an essential tool for the collaboration
with stakeholders, rather than a prerequisite for monitoring by stakeholders. This optimistic
view of transparency contrasts with other perspectives which see information disclosure as a
potential obstacle for effective governance (Hood & Heald, 2006). Transparency could
actually undermine trust and invite political meddling. In this article, we examine empirically
whether transparency is indeed a precondition for the creation of public value or that it turns
out to be a hindrance.
We compare the transparency practices and public value scores of sixteen state-owned
utilities situated in the three Caribbean countries. These cases represent both the opportunities
and threats of transparency for public value creation. The state-owned enterprises enjoyed a
relative autonomy comparable to public utilities in OECD-countries, which meant they could
largely shape their own transparency practices (Martina, 2010). On one hand, these utilities
could potentially use this freedom to actively engage with their stakeholders and so create
more value for the community. On the other hand, the small size and low generalized trust of
these island societies meant that transparency could also lead to meddling by outside actors,
destroying value instead (Douglas, 2012).
2
To examine whether transparency is a condition for public value creation, we first asked
experts to score the utilities on the three dimensions of public value, namely operational
capacity, authorizing environment, and value proposition. We then reviewed how transparent
the utilities were about their operational capacity, authorizing environment, and value
proposition by interviewing 107 of the stakeholders involved. We used fuzzy-set Qualitative
Case Analysis to examine the importance of transparency for value creation and drew on a
qualitative review to examine how exactly the management of the public utilities came to
their transparency choices.
Our findings suggest that transparency is indeed a condition for the creation of public value.
All utilities which were transparent achieved significantly higher public value scores than the
utilities which were not transparent. In particular, the high scoring organizations emphasized
transparency about their authorizing environment, consistently disclosing information about
decision-making processes and participation opportunities. They also broadcasted data about
their operational capacity and value proposition, but utilities which only disclosed these two
types of information were not as successful in creating public value. Potentially, this
mechanism could work the other way round, as only successful utilities might feel
comfortable to be transparent. The descriptive review, however, suggests that the
management of the high scoring organizations considered transparency as a tool for public
value creation.
Public value management
Over the years, multiple frameworks have been proposed to measure the value generated by
public organizations (Hood, 1991). Some instruments borrow from private sector practices,
such as the balanced scorecard for non-profit organizations by Kaplan and Norton (1992).
Other frameworks start from the unique societal mission of public organizations, such as the
mission mystique framework of Goodsell (2011). Public value models aim to capture these
multiple dimensions of value in the public sector by combining efficiency, fairness, and
societal outcomes into one framework (Williams & Shearer, 2011). Several related models
have emerged in recent years, be it with different emphases, all offering an overview of the
contradictory demands on government (Moore, 1995; 2013; Stoker, 2006; Bozeman, 2007;
Bryson et al, 2015).
We focus on the definition of public value as laid out by Moore (1995; 2013), as it provides
both a clear framework for defining public value as a developed management philosophy for
3
achieving public value. His public value management model combines several dimensions of
value: The operational capacity dimension looks at the administrative, financial and
technological capabilities of the organization. The authorizing environment dimension looks
at the democratic support and accountability of the organization. The value proposition looks
at the intended social outcomes.
Next to providing a way of measuring value, public value management also offers a specific
view on how value in the public sector is to be achieved. Firstly, in contrast to frameworks
developed within the New Public Management paradigm, public value management places
the initiative for creating value back with government. Especially the public manager leading
an organization has to play an active part in orchestrating the process of policy development
and execution (Roberts, 1995; Benington & Moore, 2010). This turns the organization from a
passive subject into an active party in value creation.
Secondly, public value management situates public organizations in a wider network of
stakeholders who have to be involved in order to create public value (Williams & Shearer,
2011; Moore, 2013). Rather than serving a single principal, public organizations are here
understood to work with a regime of different actors, such as inspectorates, consumer watch
dogs, media organizations and scientific experts (Talbot, 2010). In the view of public value
management, it is the job of the public agency to inform, engage and convince these
stakeholders. Hirst notes that“[d]emocracy in this sense is about government by information
exchange and consent” 2000: 27). This raises the question whether transparency does indeed
lead to public value creation and what this transparency should look like in practice.
Transparency practices
Various definitions of transparency have been presented in the literature (for overviews:
Bellver & Kaufman, 2005; Grimmelikhuijsen, 2012; Schnackenberg & Tomlinson, 2014). In
line with the stakeholder orientation of public value management, transparency is here
conceptualized as a relational concept or communication process (Bauhr & Grimes, 2014).
We thereby begin with the definition of transparency as the availability of information about
an organization or actor allowing external actors to monitor the internal workings or value
of that organization (Meijer, 2012; Grimmelikhuijsen & Meijer, 2014).
4
This idea of transparency has both many fans and many detractors in the literature (Tsoukas,
1997; Hood & Heald, 2006; Fung, 2013; Grimmelikhuijsen & Meijer, 2014). Proponents
praise its ability to clean up corruption, build trust, and increase accountability. Opponents
argue that transparency can increase outside meddling and actually undermine trust. We want
to move this discussion forward by going beyond a simple dichotomy between full versus nil
transparency. We do want to examine whether transparency is an essential condition for the
creation of public value, but we also want to make a distinction between different types of
transparency that organizations can pursue.
We propose to distinguish between the different types of information organizations they are
sharing and between the different quantities of information the organizations are sharing.
Firstly, we argue that organizations can make substantive choices about what type of
information they make available. For example, a state-owned electricity provider can choose
to disclose information about the costs of a new plant, the decision-process for determining
the location for the new plant, and/or the contents of its long-term investment plan. Often, the
utility will be legally required to supply some of this information, but the management can
decide to go beyond these minimal requirements in order to inform and engage external
stakeholders. We distinguish between three types of information which can be disclosed,
mirroring the three dimensions of public value as defined by Moore (1995) and work on actor
interactions in complex networks (Koppenjan & Klijn, 2004):
1) Information about operational capacity, referring to the actual operational data and the
actions of management to improve the operational value.
2) Information about the public value proposition, referring to the goals of the
organization and the deliberations of management in drafting these plans.
3) Information about the authorizing environment, referring to the design of the
stakeholder environment and the dynamics between management and stakeholders.
Secondly, public organizations can also make different choices in the quantity of information
they make available (Meijer et al., 2009; Dawes, 2010; Grimmelikhuijsen, 2012; Fine Licht,
2014). Following Dawes (2010), Grimmelikhuijsen (2012), Michener and Bersch (2013) and
Fung (2013) we propose to assess the amount of information with three criteria from the
perspective of the receiver of the information:
5
1) Completeness of information. Transparency may refer to basic, brief information
without any details or consist of elaborate information in the form of both quantitative
and qualitative data.
2) Coloring of information. Information about the organization can never be presented in
a fully neutral manner. The organization will always present the information in a
certain ‘frame’, but the restrictiveness and bias of the presentation may vary.
3) Usability of information. The information can be made available in an accessible
format, which is easily understandable for a layperson, or be presented in such a way
that only committed experts can understand it. Timeliness is also an aspect of the
usability of information.
This framework can be used to measure both the type and amount of information public
organizations are sharing, as detailed in table 1. Together with the dimensions of public
value, we can then assess whether transparency is a condition for the creation of public value.
And, to be more precise, what configurations of transparency practices correspond with the
highest creation of public value. For example, we may find that public value creation only
occurs in organizations which share ample information about their operational capacity and
authorizing environment, but that sharing a lot of information about the value proposition is
not a necessary condition for the creation of public value.
Table 1 Framework for measuring transparency
Amount of information
Type of
information
Completeness
Coloring
Usability
Operational
capacity
Complete information
about inputs,
throughputs, outputs,
costs is available
Information reflects both
the success and
failures/shortcomings of
operational processes
Reliable operational
information is made
available in an easy, timely
and accessible manner
Authorizing
environment
Complete information
about the lay-out and
dynamics of the
stakeholders and
decision-making
Information reflects all
values and opinions of the
stakeholders in the
decision-making process
Reliable information about
environment is made
available in an easy, timely
and accessible manner
Public value
proposition
Complete information
about the objectives and
means for the mid-term
is available
Information reflects
different options about
practices and different
trend expectations
Reliable information about
practices is made available
in an easy, timely and
accessible manner
6
Case selection
The sixteen cases studied here provide an illustration of both the opportunities and challenges
of transparency. These public utilities studied were situated in the small but relatively highly
developed Caribbean countries of Aruba, Curacao and St Kitts. All three countries were
considered middle to high-income economies by the World Bank, deriving their income
mainly from tourism and financial services (Oostindie & Sutton, 2005). All three countries
had strong democratic institutions with free elections, independent courts and government
practices based on an OECD mold. These institutions were furthermore secured by
constitutional links to the former colonial powers in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom
(Oostindie & Sutton, 2005).
Their small size does set these countries apart as their populations ranged from 35.000 to
135.000 per country. The public utilities on the island worked within a stakeholder
environment similar to OECD-countries, complete with auditors, regulators, journalists, and
community activists. Yet the small size of the community also meant that civil society
institutions were comparatively weak and under-developed. The absence of countervailing
powers could give nepotistic groups the opportunity to seize control of the public utilities,
just as the absence of well-established forums for debate could lead to public discussions
spiraling out of control (Oostindie & Sutton, 2005; Douglas, 2011). On one hand, the utilities
could use transparency to engage with their external stakeholders, but on the other hand, their
openness could also lead to outside meddling and instability. The extreme position of these
utilities could be conducive to revealing the importance of transparency for value creation,
but we should be careful when generalizing from the findings in this specific context.
The sixteen public utilities in our sample were responsible for services such as the
management of the airport, seaport, public transport, waste collection, energy production or
water distribution. Although the utilities had different tasks, they were largely similar in legal
status, budget control, and governance arrangements. Fourteen of these public utilities were
state-owned enterprises. For example, all three airports were nominally private companies,
but the state retained all of the shares and appointed all of the supervisory directors. Only one
of the sixteen state-owned enterprises sold shares to a commercial investor, and even then the
government retained an 80% majority share. The final two public utilities were fully
integrated government departments, falling directly under the responsibility of an elected
official.
7
The regulatory framework was closely modeled on Dutch or British legislation about
accountability and transparency. Actors such as accountants, government auditors, health &
safety inspectors, labor representatives and utility regulators had the right to monitor these
utilities closely. In the case of a conflict, parties could ultimately appeal to courts in the
United Kingdom and the Netherlands. We delineated the cases here as the sixteen legal
entities delivering the service, be it as a state-owned enterprise or government department,
plus the surrounding politicians, regulators, and interest groups controlling or observing these
organizations.
Table 2 Overview of cases
Aruba
Curacao
St Kitts
Airport
Seaport
Bus transport
Electricity & water (one entity)
Electricity distribution
Waste management
Airport
Seaport
Bus transport
Electricity & water (one entity)
Gasoline distribution
Waste management
Air- & seaport (one entity)
Electricity
Water
Waste management
As in other countries, these public utilities formed a key part of the local economy and
society. The utilities directly impacted the life of citizens through the price of their product,
reliability of service, or role as a large employer in the community (Martina, 2009). The
public utilities were therefore frequently at the heart of the public debate. Journalists would
investigate price hikes or corruption charges, politicians would call the responsible minister
to account for service failures, or community activists would try to get attention for the
ecological impact of these organizations (Douglas, 2011). However, due to the absence of
well-established forums and routines for handling public debates in civil society, the debate
would usually veer between sudden uproar and persistent silence (Douglas, 2012). The
question is whether transparency forms a condition or a hindrance for creating public value in
these circumstances and what types of transparency can make a difference.
Research design
Our research design needs to enable us to examine two issues: Firstly, we want to examine
whether transparency, or a specific configuration of transparency practices, is a condition for
the public value creation amongst the sixteen cases. We use fuzzy-set Qualitative Case
Analysis (fsQCA) for this first step, building on a public value score for each case awarded
by experts and an assessment of the transparency practices of each organization based on
8
interviews with stakeholders. Secondly, we need to check whether transparency leads to
value creation as organizations learn to engage stakeholders, or that the reverse is the case
and value creation leads to transparency as successful organizations use transparency to
celebrate their successes. We use a descriptive review of the decisions made by the
management of the utilities for this second step, exploring what their motivations were for
being transparent or not.
FsQCA, as developed by Ragin (2008), provides us with a tool to systematically analyze the
differences between the sixteen utilities while grounding the analysis in theory and leveraging
the qualitative insights from our interviews (Goertz and Mahony, 2012; Schneider and
Wagemann, 2012). Furthermore, fsQCA allows us to catalogue the different configurations of
information disclosure, so we can identify the combinations of transparency practices which
produce the best public value outcomes (Van der Heijden, 2015). ‘The key issue is not which
variable is the strongest, but how different conditions combine and whether there is only one
combination or several different combinations of conditions generating the same outcome’
(Ragin, 2008).
Strictly speaking, however, we cannot determine the direction of the mechanism by only
measuring the transparency and public value scores. We do load our fsQCA with theoretical
assumptions about the impact of transparency on public value, but public value could still be
a precursor for transparency instead of the other way round. This limitation in our research
design would ideally be fixed by a longitudinal study of the sixteen utilities, complete with
yearly interviews with the stakeholders and regular value reviews. For now, in a supplement
to our analysis, we provide a qualitative description of the considerations and actions of
management as perceived by the 107 interviewees. These interviews give an insight into the
motivations of the managers to disclose different types of information and the impact this had
on the different stakeholders. These insights help us to further specify the nature of the
mechanism at work here.
Measuring public value
We asked two experts on each island to rate the performance of the utilities on the
dimensions of operational capacity, authorizing environment, and value proposition. These
local experts may be biased, however, so the score were balanced with an outsider
perspective. One of the authors of this article, who worked out of a university in Europe,
9
provided additional scores for each of the cases, drawing on his own experience in
researching public administration in the Caribbean for five years.
The experts could award points in several categories: Firstly, between 1 and 4 points for the
public value proposition of the utility, based on their assessment of the long-term policy
benefits of the organization for the community. Secondly, between 1 and 4 points for the
authorizing environment of the utility, based on their assessment of the democratic and civil
control over the utility. Finally, between 1 and 8 points for the operational capacity of the
utility, based on their evaluation of the costs versus the quality of the service provided.
(Given the commodity nature of the product of these public utilities, it was decided to give
extra weight to operational value.) Public utilities could so earn a total of 16 points.
Naturally, there was a degree of coder disagreement between the experts. On average, there
was +/- 0.89 confidence interval for the scores awarded at 90% confidence. This means that
we would expect 90% of any additional measurements to return results +/- 0.89 of the score
achieved here. On the whole, coders were similarly positive about the best cases, although
they disagreed somewhat how well they did exactly, and similarly negative about the poorest
performers, although they disagreed somewhat how badly they performed exactly. Coders
were more divided on the cases in the middle. This means that more caution has to be
practiced when analyzing these cases.
These scores can be translated to fsQCA set membership by establishing a theoretically
informed cross-over, minimum and maximum point for the sets (Ragin, 2008; Schneider and
Wagemann, 2012). We decided to place the 0.50 membership score at the 9 point mark.
Utilities with this average score were considered by the experts to neither add value to the
community (or they would have been given a higher score) or take value from the community
(or they would have been given a lower score). The minimum and maximum membership
scores were established using the standard deviation from the average score, in this case 2.10.
We wanted to link the measurement of success to the sample scores in order to account for
the local difficulties in creating public value. Those cases scoring at least one standard
deviation above the cross-over point, a score of 11.10, are considered to be fully successful in
creating public value. Those cases achieving at least one standard deviation below the cross-
over point, a score of 6.90, are awarded no membership at all. The remaining scores were
distributed proportionally according to their deviation from the neutral score and the standard
10
deviation. For example: a score of 11.00 equals (11.00-9)/2.10+0.50=09.80 of membership of
the public value set.
Table 3 Measurement of public value
Case
Legitimacy
Min. 1 point
Max. 4 points
Operational
capacity
Min. 1 point
Max. 8 points
Public value
proposition
Min. 1 point
Max. 4 points
Total score
Min. 3 points
Max. 16 points
fsQCA set
membership
Min. 0.00
Max. 1.00
Waste A
3.25
8
2.5
13.75
1.00
Waste B
3
5
3
11
0.98
Energy A
3
4.5
3
10.5
0.86
Seaport A
2.25
5
3.25
10.5
0.86
Energy B
3.33
3.33
3.33
9.99
0.73
Airport A1
2.75
5
2
9.75
0.68
Energy C
2.5
5
2.25
9.75
0.68
Transport A
3
4.5
2
9.5
0.62
Seaport B
3
3
3
9
0.50
Waste C
1.75
4.5
1.5
7.75
0.20
Seaport C
1
4.5
2
7.5
0.14
Energy D
2.5
2.5
2.25
7.25
0.08
Energy E
2
3
2.25
7.25
0.08
Transport B2
2
4
1
7
0.02
Airport B
1.75
2.5
2.5
6.75
0.00
Energy F
1.5
2.5
1.25
5.25
0.00
Measuring transparency
We based our measurement of transparency on the information from the stakeholder
interviews. We wanted to move beyond merely counting the messages or reports released by
the utilities and check what actually came across to the stakeholders either formally or
informally. We first developed a four point scale for set membership, based on our indicators
for the amount of information provided in table 1. For example, in the opinion of its
stakeholders, Waste agency A presented its operational data completely (+0.33 membership)
and uncolored (+0.33 membership), but they felt it sometimes lacked in quality (0.00
membership). On the whole this resulted in a 0.66 membership of the operational capacity
transparency set for waste agency A. Similar assessments were made for each of the cases for
the transparency of the authorizing environment and the public value proposition.
1 Sub-score for one consumer representative for operational capacity was increased after first round of data collection to reflect adjusted
appreciation of operational capacity by consumer representative.
2 Overall score was lowered after first round of data collection. A corruption scandal came to light and, based on data from the Courts of
Auditors, the public score was reduced to the final rating by the researcher.
11
Table 4 Transparency score of cases
Case
Transparency of
operational capacity
Transparency of
authorizing environment
Transparency of
value proposition
Set
Criteria
Set
Criteria
Set
Criteria
Energy A
1.00
[] Complete
[
] Color
[] Quality
1.00
[] Complete
[
] Color
[] Quality
1.00
[] Complete
[
] Color
[] Quality
Seaport A
1.00
[] Complete
[
] Color
[] Quality
1.00
[] Complete
[
] Color
[] Quality
0.66
[] Complete
[ ] Color
[] Quality
Waste A
0.66
[] Complete
[
] Color
[ ] Quality
1.00
[] Complete
[
] Color
[] Quality
0.66
[] Complete
[
] Color
[ ] Quality
Waste B
0.66
[] Complete
[
] Color
[ ] Quality
1.00
[] Complete
[
] Color
[] Quality
0.66
[] Complete
[
] Color
[ ] Quality
Energy B
0.66
[] Complete
[ ] Color
[] Quality
0.66
[] Complete
[
] Color
[ ] Quality
0.66
[] Complete
[ ] Color
[] Quality
Airport A
0.66
[ ] Complete
[
] Color
[] Quality
0.66
[ ] Complete
[
] Color
[] Quality
0.66
[ ] Complete
[
] Color
[] Quality
Seaport C
0.66
[] Complete
[ ] Color
[] Quality
0.00
[ ] Complete
[ ] Color
[ ] Quality
0.00
[ ] Complete
[ ] Color
[ ] Quality
Energy E
0.66
[] Complete
[ ] Color
[] Quality
0.00
[ ] Complete
[ ] Color
[ ] Quality
0.66
[] Complete
[ ] Color
[] Quality
Transport B
0.66
[ ] Complete
[
] Color
[] Quality
0.33
[ ] Complete
[ ] Color
[] Quality
0.33
[ ] Complete
[ ] Color
[] Quality
Energy F
0.66
[] Complete
[ ] Color
[] Quality
0.00
[ ] Complete
[ ] Color
[ ] Quality
0.66
[] Complete
[ ] Color
[] Quality
Energy C
0.33
[ ] Complete
[ ] Color
[] Quality
0.33
[ ] Complete
[ ] Color
[] Quality
0.33
[ ] Complete
[ ] Color
[] Quality
Seaport B
0.33
[] Complete
[ ] Color
[ ] Quality
0.66
[ ] Complete
[
] Color
[] Quality
0.66
[] Complete
[ ] Color
[] Quality
Airport B
0.33
[ ] Complete
[ ] Color
[] Quality
0.00
[ ] Complete
[ ] Color
[ ] Quality
0.33
[] Complete
[ ] Color
[] Quality
Transport A
0.00
[ ] Complete
[ ] Color
[ ] Quality
0.33
[] Complete
[ ] Color
[ ] Quality
0.00
[ ] Complete
[ ] Color
[ ] Quality
Waste C
0.00
[ ] Complete
[
] Color
[ ] Quality
0.00
[ ] Complete
[ ] Color
[ ] Quality
0.00
[ ] Complete
[ ] Color
[ ] Quality
Energy D
0.00
[ ] Complete
[ ] Color
[ ] Quality
0.33
[] Complete
[ ] Color
[ ] Quality
0.33
[] Complete
[ ] Color
[ ] Quality
12
Fuzzy-set Qualitative Case Analysis
To investigate the interaction between transparency and public value, we conducted a series
of analyses. Firstly, we checked the necessity of three different types of transparency as
conditions for creating public value (Schneider & Wagemann, 2012). A condition can only be
considered necessary if it has a consistency of at least 0.90 with the outcome (Ragin, 2009).
In this case, none of the transparency types meet this threshold, although transparency about
the authorizing environment comes close with 0.84. This indicates that none of types of
transparency are by themselves a necessary condition for the creation of public value,
although transparency about the authorizing environment may be quite important. This would
suggest that the recipe for the creation of public value relies on a combination of different
types of transparency.
Table 5 Analysis of necessary conditions
Creation of public value
Condition
Consistency
Coverage
Transparency of
operational capacity
0.73 0.63
Transparency of
authorizing environment
0.84 0.86
Transparency of
value proposition
0.70 0.65
The fuzzy-set analytics then allowed us to identify the combination of transparency types
which best explain the occurrence of public value. This combination needs to be the most
consistent predictor of value, i.e. the utilities with this combination of transparency types are
indeed consistently more successful. The combination also needs to explain a significant part
of public value being produced here, i.e. the formula needs to cover as much as possible of
the value created by the utilities in the sample.
On the whole this resulted in the below configuration of types of transparency and
membership of the public value set. Six cases scored high on all types of transparency. These
six cases were 0.91 consistent with the public value set, i.e. cases with all forms of
transparency were by and large also successful in creating public value. This would qualify
these organizations to be part of the recipe for value. Only one other configuration of
transparency types also achieved a relatively high consistency with high value. Seaport B
13
combined high transparency of the value proposition with high transparency of authorizing
environment and was 0.76 consistent with the outcome set.
Ragin (2008) argues that cases with a consistency lower than 0.80 should not usually be
considered to be part of the outcome when continuing the analysis, although this decision to
include them or not also depends on the scores of the sample. Given the gap between the six
cases with a 0.91 consistency and Seaport B with a 0.76 consistency, plus the fact that
Seaport B only scored 0.50 on public value and is therefore not a prime example of a value
creator, it was decided to put the threshold at 0.91. Following similar considerations, we did
decide to include the four utilities with a 0.86 consistency with no public value creation in
our other analysis, as this allows us to analyze solutions amongst a larger group of cases. We
did complete the calculations at the lower thresholds as well and will refer to them in the text.
Table 6 Truth table of sufficient conditions
Transparency
of operational
capacity
Transparency
of authorizing
environment
Transparency
of public value
proposition
Number of
cases
Consistency
Public value
created
Consistency
No public
value created
1
1
1
6
0.91
0.35
0
0
0
4
0.52
0.86
1
0
1
2
0.43
0.97
1
0
0
2
0.45
0.98
0
1
1
1
0.76
0.69
0
0
1
1
0.46
0.97
1
1
0
0
N/A
N/A
0
1
0
0
N/A
N/A
We then ran the analysis on the key characteristic of the successful cases versus those which
failed to produce public value. A combination of transparency of operations and of
authorizing environment comes out as the most parsimonious recipe for public value. A total
of 0.68 of the public value produced in the sample is covered by organizations scoring high
on at least these two parameters. There was a 0.90 consistency between the characteristics of
the cases and their respective public value outcomes. This two-part recipe for high value
performed marginally better than a slightly more complex formula containing all three forms
of transparency. A slightly lower 0.65 share of the public value could be explained by this
form of transparency, although this formula was slightly more reliable with a 0.91
consistency. This would suggest that the performers were highly transparent across all
14
dimensions, but that some further analysis could reveal the role each type of transparency
plays.
Table 7 Solutions for the outcome "Public Value Creation"
Measures of fit
Complex solution
Parsimonious solution
Intermediate
Transparency about
operational capacity
AND authorizing
environment
AND value proposition
Transparency about
operational capacity
AND authorizing
environment
Transparency about
operational capacity
AND authorizing
environment
AND value proposition
Raw coverage
Unique coverage
Consistency
0.65
0.65
0.91
0.68
0.68
0.90
0.65
0.65
0.91
Cases explained
Waste A, Waste B,
Energy A, Seaport A,
Energy B, Airport A
Waste A, Waste B,
Energy A, Seaport A,
Energy B, Airport A
Waste A, Waste B,
Energy A, Seaport A,
Energy B, Airport A
Frequency cut-off: 1.00. Consistency cutoff: 0.91
When slightly expanding the membership of the high value set to also include the case with a
0.76 consistency with the public value set, the role of authorizing environment transparency
becomes more pronounced. In this set of seven agencies, the presence of transparency of
authorizing environment is on itself already the best predictor of value. The presence of
transparency of authorizing environment covers 0.85 of the public value produced and there
is a still high consistency of 0.86 between having high transparency of authorizing
environment and achieving high public value scores.
The importance of authorizing environment transparency is confirmed furthermore by
analyzing the group of failing organizations. Of the public value failure produced here, 0.88
could be explained by not sharing information about the authorizing environment. A lack of
transparency of authorizing environment was 0.87 consistent with a low score on public
value. In other words, whereas it takes a combination of authorizing environment
transparency and operational capacity transparency to be successful, the mere absence
authorizing environment transparency spells doom for the public value creation of a utility.
15
Table 8 Solutions for the outcome "No Public Value Creation"
Measures of fit
Complex solution
Parsimonious solution
Intermediate
NO authorizing
environment
transparency
NO authorizing
environment
transparency
NO authorizing
environment
transparency
Raw coverage
Unique coverage
Consistency
0.88
0.88
0.87
0.88
0.88
0.87
0.88
0.88
0.87
Cases explained
Waste C, Seaport C,
Energy D, Energy E,
Transport B, Airport B,
Energy F
Waste C, Seaport C,
Energy D, Energy E,
Transport B, Airport B,
Energy F
Waste C, Seaport C,
Energy D, Energy E,
Transport B, Airport B,
Energy F
Frequency cut-off: 1.00. Consistency cutoff: 0.86
One analysis we could not conduct was a check between the different types of transparency
and the sub-dimensions of public value, i.e. transparency of operational capacity may occur
together with strong operational capacity. The small sample size limited our analysis, as there
were not enough high public value cases for each of the possible configurations. A statistical
regression analysis with a much larger number of cases may be a better way of testing the
relationship between the different types of transparency and the different sub-dimensions of
public value.
Descriptive review
So far, we have found that the separate types of transparency are not by themselves a
necessary condition for the occurrence of public value creation. However, the joint
occurrence of different types of transparency together, does seem to be an important
precondition for the occurrence of public value. Especially transparency about the authorizing
environment seems to be key ingredient in this transparency mix.
The fsQCA has given insight into the relative importance of the different types of
transparency. A further descriptive review could shed some light on the exact mechanism at
work. Specifically, we want to examine the direction of the mechanism, establishing whether
transparency is a precondition for value creation or the other way around. Our interviews
with 107 respondents highlight how public managers used transparency not just to fulfill the
need for monitoring, but also to engage external stakeholders.
16
Operational capacity transparency
Ten of the sixteen cases were transparent about their operational capacity, disclosing
information about their production process, internal finances, and management interventions.
This set of ten included both the six top performers (Waste A to Airport A), but also three of
the four worst performers (Energy E, Transport B, Energy F). Operational capacity
transparency was an important condition for the occurrence of public value, but only in
occurrence with other forms of transparency. The comments from the stakeholders about
operational capacity transparency reveal why operational transparency is so important, but
also why it is not effective on its own.
Regulators noted that many of the below-average utilities were opaque about their operations,
publishing little or no information to the outside world. One auditor commented on the
management styles of the directors of these utilities that they are running it as a family
company.’ In line with a monitorial view of transparency, these regulators would be
concerned about potential nepotism and inefficiency through a lack of oversight. The
managers countered, however, that the releasing operational data into the public domain
would actually increase the chances of outside meddling and general confusion.
The management argued that the information about operations becomes part of the political
debate instead of merely functioning as neutral content. The manager of one utility related:
You have to explain [your organization] well, but that is extremely tough. Even if you get it
right yourself, there is always someone in your back who will completely twist your stories.
People hear all these different stories and do not know what to believe anymore.’ This leads
to a lot of confusion and unrest around the utilities, even when the operational data is
seemingly crystal clear. Some give up on disclosing operational data, as one manager related:
I tried explaining my policy to these people, but they just will not understand and get upset.
Now I just keep a low profile.’
However, as these organizations are publicly owned and constantly watched, they could not
hide from the public debate forever. Opposition politicians and the media would ask for data
when services broke down and sometimes information would be leaked by disgruntled
employees. The utilities had to accept the fact that they had to share data about operations
with the public, but the question is what else they could do to make the exchange
constructive. Here, the managers of the high public value utilities would frame the
operational data as part of a larger exchange with stakeholders. The manager of one of the
17
energy utilities argued that he had to inform his minister regularly about the operational
performance of the plant, as the minister would get the angry phone calls from citizens if the
lights went out. However, the manager would accompany this information with transparency
about the authorizing environment, emphasizing how they were working with their partners
to improve the situation.
Value proposition transparency
Nine of the sixteen utilities shared information about their value proposition, disclosing data
about their future investment plans, long term service ambitions and expected costs for
citizens. This set included the six best performing utilities (Waste A to Airport A) and two of
the worst performers (Energy E, Energy F). On itself, value proposition transparency seems
to be the least important type of transparency for public value creation, but again it was an
important condition in combination with the other types of disclosure. The interviews again
illustrate why this type of transparency is important, but also why it needs to be combined
with information about the authorizing environment.
As could be expected of public organizations which are constantly involved in large scale
infrastructure projects, strategic planning was second nature to these public utilities. The first
thing you need to do is plan,’ commented a public manager. ‘What do you want, what is your
vision, mission?Many of them would be keen on sharing these plans with the outside world,
ranging from the successful Waste utility A to the failing Energy utility F. The key difference
was whether these plans were captured into a wider transparency strategy including
authorizing environment information, or that they were merely presented as the objectives
made and owned by the management.
The public manager of the Transport utility A, with a mediocre public value score, explained
how he did everything to share his plans with the outside world: “I made sure I was on the
radio every week, every month I had a big item. […] I had work councils every week, because
people had to know what my plans were. […] It was all very cumbersome, but there was no
other way.” This public manager approached value proposition transparency as a politician
approaches the campaign trail; as an obligation to sell policies to reluctant voters. No
meaningful engagement took place about how stakeholders could get involved in shaping
these plans.
18
By contrast, successful managers would consider a discussion about plans as an opportunity
to leverage the support of other stakeholders. The public manager of the high performing
Energy utility A held extensive consultation rounds when drafting five years plan, involving
both ordinary citizens and organized stakeholders such as the environmental lobby and the
tourism industry. Both the unsuccessful and successful public managers were sharing
information about the value proposition in these examples, but the effective managers
combined this with a clear message how stakeholders could get engaged in the process.
Authorizing environment transparency
Seven utilities were transparent about their authorizing environment, disclosing information
about who was involved in governing the utility and how these actors interacted. These seven
utilities were also the seven top performers. On itself, authorizing environment transparency
was therefore almost a necessary condition for the creation of public value, although it did
require the combination with the other forms of transparency as well to be effective.
The leading stakeholders at the seven top utilities considered transparency not only to be
about launching data into the public arena but also about explaining their deliberations and
decision process. They did not deny that more operational capacity transparency could lead
to more debate, yet they argued that this can only be remedied by providing authorizing
environment data alongside with it. As one minister commented: “The people struggle to
understand all this information, but we cannot hide behind the data.You have to remain
open and keep explaining why you make the decisions.The authorizing environment was
rarely simple, as the formal arrangement already included many state, quasi-state, and none
state actors, and the more informal dynamics covered a wide range of actors from journalists
to sole community activists. Transparency about the design and dynamics of this authorizing
environment apparently helped to steer the utility towards value creation.
In one case, the public manager of one of the top waste utilities responded with transparency
about the authorizing environment when confronted with political meddling. The ruling
political party tried to parachute a personal favorite into the position of general manager of
the utility. This move ignored both the rules governing civil service appointments and the
current general manager who was considered to be competent. This current manager
responded on the radio, not by attacking the competence of the new candidate or by
highlighting his operational track record, but by outlining the procedural rules for appointing
personnel. His main point was that such political involvement in civil service recruitment
19
undermined the fair chances of all citizens to get a job and that the correct procedures should
therefore be respected. This clarification of the rules helped to stave off the appointment.
Transparency about the authorizing environment was not always used as a weapon, but also
as a tool to engage with the citizenry, usually entwining it with operational data. The public
manager of one high value waste management utility hosted a weekly call-in radio show
titled ‘Talking trash.’ Usually, angry citizens would call in with complaints about
overflowing garbage bins or smells from the landfill site. The manager would actively reach
out to citizens by not only explaining the operational issues behind the problems, but also by
explaining the process by which the relevant policies came about and what listeners could do
to intervene in this process. Through the radio show, the waste utility created a forum to
engage stakeholders using operational and authorizing environment transparency. The
manager so managed both the content and the form of the debate, thereby minimizing
confusion and maximizing stakeholder support.
The absence of authorizing environment transparency was on itself already a condition for
failure. The pro-active approaches to transparency of the high performers were in sharp
contrast to the opaqueness of the authorizing environment amongst the poorly performing
utilities. These public managers would often hide their decision-making process behind an
‘executive privilege’, arguing that they only had to answer to the government at the annual
shareholder meeting. Although this helped many managers to keep out external stakeholders
in the short run, it did undermine their support amongst the stakeholders in the long run,
making public value creation apparently next to impossible.
Discussion & Conclusion
We set out to explore the importance of different transparency practices for the creation of
public value. Our empirical study confirms that transparency practices make a difference:
Public utilities which actively disclosed information were considerably more effective in
creating public value than does who did not disclose information. Especially transparency
about the authorizing environment seems to be an important condition for the creation of
value. Public utilities which only disclosed operational capacity or value proposition
information were not likely to succeed. If they did include authorizing environment
transparency in their practices, they were usually successful in creating public value.
20
These findings may help to evolve our understanding of the importance of transparency and
the mechanisms of public value creation. Traditionally, transparency is conceptualized as a
tool for external stakeholders to monitor the internal workings of an organization (Meijer,
2012; Grimmelikhuijsen & Meijer, 2014). Our findings suggest that transparency can also be
used by an organization in the broader interaction with its stakeholders in order to collaborate
on creating public value. The article also highlights that efforts to strengthen transparency
should not solely focus on legal frameworks (Roberts, 2006) or on organizational conditions
(Pasquier & Villeneuve, 2007). Instead, it should also address the perceptions, attitudes and
communicative skills of the public managers that actually enact transparency directed at
stakeholders (Roberts, 2005).
This focus on engaging through transparency also increases the risk of government spin
(Roberts, 2005; Grimmelikhuijsen, 2011). Public organizations could start equating
transparency practices with marketing and become very manipulative in their expressions.
For this reason, the monitorial role of transparency remains important as well. Just as an
effective interaction with external stakeholders ultimately relies on the fact that the disclosed
information is trusted and believed. This finding also speaks to the criticism of public value
theory that it gives too much freedom to public managers (Williams & Shearer). Our findings
suggest that high value utilities allow for both monitoring by stakeholders and engaging with
stakeholders, thereby keeping the managers in check.
We do want to emphasize that these findings are based on a limited number of case studies in
a specific setting. Larger samples may turn up more configurations of transparency types, and
potentially different recipes for value creation. A repeat study with a larger case collection
could therefore test these findings, as well as advance our understanding of the link between
the different dimensions of public value and transparency. It is also important to remember
that the utilities were based in small countries with relatively weak civil societies, which may
have amplified the need for engaging transparency. The importance of the different
transparency types could potentially also apply in other settings, but this will have to eb
confirmed through further empirical studies.
On the whole, we hope to have contributed to transparency theory by expanding its domain
from passive, monitorial practices to active, engaging ones. Transparency is not only an
obligation or legal requirement for public managers but also a tool in their interaction with
21
stakeholders. In addition, we hope to have given the public value literature an impulse to
further explore the role of information disclosure in creating public value.
22
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25
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