Teaching Transparency in the Digital Age: Thick or Thin Paradigm
Over the past 25 years there has been a ‘surge’ in freedom of information legislation, alongside companion rights to administrative justice and other forms of constitutional accountability. The principle of ‘transparency’ has found expression in innumerable institutions and processes cutting across several dimensions - international and domestic, state and non-state, formal/mandatory and informal/voluntary. During the same period, the world has gone through a ‘digital revolution’; the internet and other forms of ICT have transformed the way people live and work. Digital rights, including data protection and privacy rights, now jostle with rights to information disclosure for attention and supremacy. New fronts constantly open up, as technology advances; the governance of artificial intelligence is likely to be the next one. Thus, the field of transparency law and governance has expanded greatly. It is a rich arena for research and study. The academy struggles to keep pace with these far-reaching changes in policy, practice and technology, raising significant questions for those teaching courses related to transparency, including whether to adopt a narrow or broad approach to the topic in terms of both syllabus and pedagogy. One framing of the dilemma is to think in terms of a ‘thin’ versus a ‘thick’ paradigm. In the former, the study of transparency would focus primarily, and relatively narrowly, on the right to access to information/freedom of information from a human rights law perspective. In the latter, one would instead embrace the full panoply of inter-related subjects – from whistleblowing to administrative justice; from digital rights to data protection, and so on. Which approach will provide the most fulfilling experience for the student? Is there a tipping point at which a subject field becomes so congested and wide-ranging that it no longer makes sense to ‘house’ it under one academic roof? Or, does the inter-related and inter-depended nature of the various sub-fields require a transparency ‘eco-system’ outlook, and one that would provide a suitably multi-dimensional and trans-disciplinary course design, however challenging? This paper raises these questions in a spirit of professional solidarity and inquiry in the hope that engaging with them will assist other ‘transparency teachers’ as they design, convene and lecture post-graduate courses. Accordingly, the paper presents the author’s own new LLM course on Transparency Law & Governance not as a model but more of a prototype that aims, albeit tentatively and hesitatingly, to strike an appropriate balance between the thick and thin paradigmatic approach to teaching a complex and fast-growing subject, recognizing the contextual challenges and opportunities presented by the digital revolution.
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