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November 8, 2011

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Is Business Ready for Hypertransparency?

In the age of Wikileaks, the Arab Spring, and Occupy Wall Street, technology has opened a new world for democratized digital inclusion. Suddenly, there is more information available instantly—to everyone, everywhere—about environmental degradation, human rights impacts, and ethical business practices.

This new data-saturated culture in which technology allows messages—both true and false—to spread like wildfire is forcing a shift in the transparency paradigm. The era of controlled and packaged disclosures is giving way to transparency that is being co-created by stakeholders and citizen journalists. And businesses, ready or not, will have to adapt.

But this adaptation isn't always easy or fast. While 55 percent of sustainable business leaders in a new BSR/GlobeScan survey say increased transparency is critical to improving public trust, only 32 percent believe business is showing leadership in this area.

At last week's BSR Conference 2011, panelists and participants in a session on hypertransparency echoed this sentiment. They pointed to the immense opportunity for building greater trust, engagement, and empowerment through co-created transparency. But they also grappled with how to create accountability for the abundance of new information, the challenge of lasting engagement in 140-character attention spans, and whether we have to sacrifice privacy for transparency.

Despite the uncertainties, a few companies are bravely tiptoeing into this arena:

These are promising first steps, but it’s important to remember that transparency in itself is not the end game. It's not enough to just put the information and data out there. To engender trust, businesses need to also engage with their stakeholders to help them filter and understand the information without acting as a censor or dumbing down the content.

The power and potential in hypertransparency is the opportunity to co-create solutions. If business is able to move from one-way disclosures to a continuous communication and engagement model, the exchange of products and services can create contact, friendships, and emotional accountability from corporations to consumers around the world.

This article is also published on the Huffington Post.

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