Latent transparency and trust in government: Unexpected findings from two survey experiments

Stephan G. Grimmelikhuijsen, Suzanne J. Piotrowski, Gregg G. Van Ryzin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Transparency is popularly believed to enhance the public's trust in government, yet experimental studies have found mixed results. One explanation is that public trust may respond more positively to a kind of “latent transparency” in which citizens highly value the mere potential for open access to government information, even if they may have more negative reactions when presented with the particular content of actual government information, documents, or data. To test this hypothesis, we designed two survey experiments in which samples of US adults were primed with general information about the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or the existence of open government data. Compared to controls, we find that awareness of FOIA rights and requirements (latent transparency) tended to be unrelated, or even slightly negatively related, to trust of government agencies, contrary to our expectations. Our findings, combined with prior evidence, suggest that—even in the case of latent transparency—the popular belief in transparency's positive effects on citizen trust needs a more critical examination. Implications for the theory and practice of transparency are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101497
JournalGovernment Information Quarterly
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Library and Information Sciences
  • Law


  • Federal government
  • Freedom of information
  • Openness
  • Randomized experiment
  • Trust


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