The session on Information, Governments and Society explored the relationship between theory and practice of FOIL or Freedom of Information Laws, as well as the implications of potential asymmetries in information. The two presenters agreed that transparency and information availability are not neutral concepts and that they require constructive institutional context to help to strengthen democratic governance. It is sometimes the case that FOIL laws are ineffective in practice and that governments without FOILs can undertake significant, information-driven reforms.
Similarly, in conditions of information asymmetry in which powerful interests are privileged by a greater role in government, greater transparency in government can lead to greater inequality and less democracy. However, a culture of transparency cannot be built in a day: small steps can contribute to increasingly sustainable transparency and better governance – especially when transparency-bearing institutions do not privilege already powerful interests, but work in the interests o all groups in society.
The session concluded that helping to establish some common, international standards of transparency could be an important contribution to democratic transparency. And PBOs are an important part of this process by dealing with concrete questions in budgets in the name of the people who are represented in parliaments.