Proactive disclosure of public information: legislative choice worldwide

DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/OIR-02-2016-0054
Pages354-377
Date12 June 2017
Published date12 June 2017
AuthorManuela García-Tabuyo,Alejandro Saez-Martin,Carmen Caba-Perez
Proactive disclosure of public
information: legislative
choice worldwide
Manuela García-Tabuyo, Alejandro Saez-Martin and
Carmen Caba-Perez
Universidad de Almeria, Almeria, Spain
Abstract
Purpose The purpose of this paper is twofold: to identify legislatorspolicy on the mandatory, online
proactive disclosure of information; and to identify environmental influences on behaviour in this respect.
To implement these proactive policies on transparency included in the legislative frameworks, internet
websites are being used as a means of disseminating this proactive information.
Design/methodology/approach To achieve these goals, by application of the theories used to analyse
the causes of information disclosure, the authors first developed an index of online proactive disclosure; then,
by means of a regression analysis, the authors examined and tested eight hypotheses related to
environmental variables.
Findings The results obtained show that legislators have chosen to require scant online proactive
information on which to base institutional legitimacy, and that in this respect they are influenced by how long
the previous laws have been in force, by the level of public sector borrowing and by the degree of political
commitment among the population.
Originality/value The results obtained from this study will provide valuable information for future
legislators and for civil society about information policies, clarifying the amount and nature of information
that, according to the authorities, should be disclosed without the need for prior request. The paper is also
intended to stimulate the development of further research in this area, by showing how different economic,
political, social, cultural and institutional contexts influence the decisions taken regarding the public
information that must be reported proactively to stakeholders.
Keywords Law, Online, Information, Transparency, Mandatory, FOI
Paper type Research paper
Introduction
In recent decades, public institutions have lost credibility, and trust in them has declined
significantly (Tolbert and Mossberger, 2006). In this context, access to public information
(Relly, 2012), and in particular the online disclosure of public information, has improved the
transparency of governments and enhanced public confidence in them (Tolbert and
Mossberger, 2006; Cuillier and Piotrowski, 2009; Bertot et al., 2010). As observed by
Meijer (2015), transparency is necessary to create public value.
In this respect, authors such as Birkinshaw (2010) and Worthy (2014) believe that the
regulation of access to public information provides the necessary mechanisms to ensure
transparency is achieved. Moreover, as observed by IFAI (2004), the regulation of access to
public information is a major factor underpinning the success of policies adopted in
accordance with the principles of new public management.
In consequence, agencies and international organisation s working to enhanc e
government transparency have called on countries to legally regulate access to public
information (Neuman, 2006). These pressures, together with the development of technology
that facilitates the achievement of transparency (Relly and Sabharwal, 2009), have led to a
worldwide proliferation of new laws on access to public information imposing legal
requirements for online information disclosure.
However, as indicated by Levitsky and Murillo (2006), the preparation and design of laws
on access to information may be affected by circumstances particular to the political, social,
Online Information Review
Vol. 41 No. 3, 2017
pp. 354-377
© Emerald PublishingLimited
1468-4527
DOI 10.1108/OIR-02-2016-0054
Received 14 February 2016
Revised 6 December 2016
Accepted 26 January 2017
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
www.emeraldinsight.com/1468-4527.htm
354
OIR
41,3
economic and legal nature of each country, which means there may be significant disparities
among them, with respect to underlying assumptions and to the content of national laws.
Accordingly, at an international level, opinions are being expressed and principles
established regarding the fundamental concepts and content of such laws, in order to
achieve a certain basic homogeneity, which is an essential feature of the current process of
globalisation (Relly, 2012). Among other issues, these frameworks regulating access to
public information develop the main principles and requirements on which new legislation
should be grounded (Article 19, 2007; Atlanta Declaration, 2008; Council of Europe, 2009;
Organization of American States, 2010) as well as the structure and minimum content that
should be incorporated (Islam, 2006).
Focussing on the content of these laws, various organisations and authors have
emphasised the need to designate protected information (Islam, 2006; Organization of
American States, 2010; Gingras, 2012), that is, information that should not be made publicly
available, with the remaining items of information being at the disposal of stakeholders,
either on request or by legal obligation. As Xiao (2010) and Luna-Reyes et al. (2012) point
out, the legal requirement of proactive (i.e. without prior request) online information
disclosure constitutes a mechanism of control and transparency. In this respect, the
development of ICT has facilitated proactive online information disclosure and universal
access (West, 2004).
Thus, governments have the ability to alter peoples perceptions of public bodies,
through actions such as the legal requirement for certain information to be disclosed
proactively, which tend to increase public confidence in institutions (Relly, 2012;
Organization of American States, 2010).
Several theories have been proposed to explain why public authorities should decide to
disclose information, including agency theory (Zimmerman, 1977), institutional theory
(Carpenter and Feroz, 2001), and legitimacy theory (Suchman, 1995), and differing reasons
have been suggested to explain why information should be disclosed online. In view of this
theoretical background, it would be interesting to determine which factors may influence the
amount and nature of the information to be disclosed online, under transparency laws.
Taking into account the above considerations, this paper has two main aims: first, to
examine proactive online disclosure policies, and specifically, the amount and nature
of proactive information the authorities consider should necessarily be disclosed to
stakeholders. Second, we consider the reasons why authorities require this information
to be provided proactively, distinguishing these reasons in terms of the amount and
nature of the information in question. We hope the results obtained from this study
will provide valuable information for future legislators and for civil society about
information policies, clarifying the amount and nature of information that, according to
the authorities, should be disclosed without the need for prior request. The paper is also
intended to stimulate the development of further research in this area, by showing how
different economic, political, social, cultural and institutional contexts influence the
decisions taken regarding the public information that must be reported online and
proactively to stakeholders.
The importance of regulating access to public information and its content
Access to public information is a right that enables the exercise of control; it highlights
transparency and allows the review and evaluation of actions by public authorities
(Piotrowski and Van Ryzing, 2007). At the same time, it represents a means of public audit
and participation (Wampler, 2004). It is a fundamental human right, as well as an
indispensable tool in a democratic government and a key instrument in a policy of
transparency (Darch and Underwood, 2010), dating back to the Declaration of the Rights of
Man of 1789.
355
Proactive
disclosure
of public
information

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