Living With Data’s first journal article is published!

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4 Jul 2023 News

Socially meaningful transparency in data-based systems: reflections and proposals from practice

The first academic journal article from the project has been published in Journal of Documentation. A blog about this article will follow over the summer. Please also see our resources and publications page for all our other outputs!


The purpose of this article is to present proposals to foster what we call a socially meaningful transparency practice. We argue that this aims to enhance public understanding of data-based systems through the production of accounts that are relevant and useful to diverse publics, and society more broadly.


Our proposals emerge from reflections on challenges we experienced producing written and visual accounts of specific public sector data-based systems for research purposes. Following Ananny and Crawford’s call to see limits to transparency practice as “openings”, we put our experience into dialogue with the literature to think about how we might chart a way through the challenges. Based on these reflections, we outline seven proposals for fostering socially meaningful transparency.


We identify three transparency challenges from our practice: information asymmetry, uncertainty and resourcing. We also present seven proposals related to:

1 reduction of information asymmetries between organisations and non-commercial external actors,

2 enhanced legal rights to access information,

3 shared decision making about what gets made transparent,

4 making visible social impacts and uncertainties of data-systems,

5 clear and accessible communication,

6 timing of transparency practices,

7 adequate resourcing.

Social implications

Socially meaningful transparency aims to enhance public understanding of data-based systems. It is therefore a necessary condition not only for informed use of data-based products, but crucially, for democratic engagement in the development of datafied societies.


The paper contributes to existing debates on meaningful transparency by arguing for a more social, rather than individual, approach to imagining how to make transparency practice more meaningful. We do this through our empirical reflections on experiences of doing transparency, conceptually through our notion of socially meaningful transparency, and practically through our seven proposals.



The research reported in this paper was conducted as part of the Living With Data project funded by Nuffield Foundation, UK.


Bates, J.Kennedy, H.Medina Perea, I.Oman, S. and Pinney, L. (2023), “Socially meaningful transparency in data-based systems: reflections and proposals from practice”, Journal of Documentation, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.