Skip to main content Accessibility help

Measuring Transparency

  • James R. Hollyer (a1), B. Peter Rosendorff (a2) and James Raymond Vreeland (a3)


Transparency is often viewed as crucial to government accountability, but its measurement remains elusive. This concept encompasses many dimensions, which have distinct effects. In this article, we focus on a specific dimension of transparency: governments' collection and dissemination of aggregate data. We construct a measure of this aspect of transparency, using an item response model that treats transparency as a latent predictor of the reporting of data to the World Bank's World Development Indicators. The resultant index covers 125 countries from 1980 to 2010. Unlike some alternatives (e.g., Freedom House), our measure—the HRV index—is based on objective criteria rather than subjective expert judgments. Unlike newspaper circulation numbers, HRV reflects the dissemination of credible content—in that it has survived the World Bank's quality control assessment. In a validation exercise, we find that our measure outperforms newspaper circulation as a predictor of Law and Order and Bureaucratic Quality as measured by the ICRG, particularly in autocracies. It performs as well as newspaper circulation in predicting corruption. These findings suggest that data dissemination is a distinct, and politically relevant, form of transparency.


Corresponding author

e-mail: (corresponding author)


Hide All

Authors' note: We would like to thank Neal Beck, Adam Bonica, Lawrence Broz, Christina Davis, Jennifer Gandhi, Michael Gilligan, Andrew Little, Jonathan Nagler, Megumi Naoi, William Skorupski, Randall Stone, Johannes Urpelainen, and participants in the 2011 MPSA Panel on New Methodologies and Data for IPE, the NYU Workshop on Bayesian Methods, the 2012 ISA Panel on Transparency, Information and Firms in a Global Economy, and the Stanford University Methods Workshop for helpful comments and suggestions. We would also like to thank the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute for access to their resources. All remaining errors are our own. Replication materials for this article are available on the Dataverse site for this article, We will also upload all replication files, our index, and related work to Supplementary materials for this article are available on the Political Analysis Web site.



Hide All
Adserà, Alícia, Boix, Carles, and Payne, Mark. 2003. Are you being served? Political accountability and quality of government. Journal of Law, Economics & Organization 19(2): 445–90.
Barro, Robert J. 1973. The control of politicians: An economic model. Public Choice 14(1): 1942.
Berliner, Daniel. 2011. The political origins of transparency.
Besley, Timothy. 2006. Principled agents? The political economy of good government. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Besley, Timothy, and Burgess, Robin. 2002. The political economy of government responsiveness: Theory and evidence from India. Quarterly Journal of Economics 117(4): 1415–51.
Björkman, Martina, and Svensson, Jakob. 2009. Power to the people: Evidence from a randomized field experiment on community-based monitoring in Uganda. Quarterly Journal of Economics 124(2): 735–69.
Brambor, Thomas, Clark, William Roberts, and Golder, Matt. 2005. Understanding interaction models: Improving empirical analyses. Political Analysis 13: 120.
Broz, J. Lawrence. 2002. Political system transparency and monetary commitment regimes. International Organization 56(4): 861–87.
Brunetti, Aymo, and Weder, Beatrice. 2003. A free press is bad news for corruption. Journal of Public Economics 87: 1801–24.
Bueno de Mesquita, Bruce, Smith, Alastair, Siverson, Randolph M., and Morrow, James D. 2003. The logic of political survival. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Carmines, Edward G., and Zeller, Richard A. 1979. Reliability and validity assessment. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Cheibub, José Antonio, Gandhi, Jennifer, and Vreeland, James Raymond. 2010. Democracy and dictatorship revisited. Public Choice 143: 67101.
Chong, Alberto, Ana L De La, O., Karlan, Dean, and Wantchekon, Leonard. 2010. Information dissemination and local governments' electoral returns: Evidence from a field experiment in Mexico.
Di Tella, Rafael, and Schargrodsky, Ernesto. 2003. The role of wages and auditing during a crackdown on corruption in the city of Buenos Aires. Journal of Law, Economics & Organization 46: 269–92.
Duch, Raymond M., and Stevenson, Randolph T. 2008. The economic vote: How political and economic institutions condition election results. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Fearon, James D., and Laitin, David. 2003. Ethnicity, insurgency, and civil war. American Political Science Review 97(1): 7590.
Ferejohn, John. 1986. Incumbent performance and electoral control. Public Choice 50: 525.
Ferraz, Claudio, and Finan, Frederico. 2008. Exposing corrupt politicians: The effects of Brazil's publically released audits on electoral outcomes. Quarterly Journal of Economics 123(2): 703–45.
Fforde, Adam, and De Vylder, Stefan. 1996. From plan to market: The economic transition in Vietnam. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Fox, Jean-Paul, and Glas, Cees A. W. 2003. Bayesian modeling of measurement error in predictor variables using item response theory. Psychometrika 68(2): 169–91.
Gates, Scott, Hegre, Havard, Jones, Mark P., and Strand, Havard. 2006. Institutional inconsistency and political instability: Polity duration, 1800–2000. American Journal of Political Science 50(4): 893908.
Gehlbach, Scott, and Malesky, Edmund. 2010. The contribution of veto players to economic reform. Journal of Politics 74(4): 957–75.
Gelman, Andrew, and Hill, Jennifer. 2006. Data analysis using regression and multilevel/hierarchical models: Analytical methods in social science. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Gelman, Andrew, Goegebeur, Yuri, Tuerlinckx, Francis, and Van Mechelen, Iven. 2000. Diagnostic checks for discrete data regression models using posterior predictive simulations. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series C (Applied Statistics) 49(2): 247–68.
Gill, Jeff. 2008. Is partial-dimension convergence a problem for inference from MCMC algorithms? Political Analysis 16(2): 153–78.
Herron, Michael C. 1999. Postestimation uncertainty in limited dependent variable models. Political Analysis 8(1): 8398.
Heston, Alan, Summers, Robert, and Aten, Bettina. 2012. Penn World Table Version 7.1. Center for International Comparisons of Production, Income and Prices at the University of Pennsylvania.
Hoffman, Barak D. 2011. The politics of transparency in Kenya and Tanzania. Manuscript. Department of Government, Georgetown University.
Hollyer, James R., Peter Rosendorff, B., and Vreeland, James R. 2011. Democracy and transparency. Journal of Politics 73(4): 115.
Hollyer, James R., Peter Rosendorff, B., and Vreeland, James R. 2013a. Data disclosure, accountability and the facets of transparency.
Hollyer, James R., Peter Rosendorff, B., and Vreeland, James R. 2013b. Transparency, protest and political (in)stability.
Hollyer, James R., Peter Rosendorff, B., and Vreeland, James R. 2014. Replication data for: Measuring transparency. Dataverse Network [Distributor] V1 [Version].
Islam, Roumeen. 2006. Does more transparency go along with better governance? Economics and Politics 18(2): 121–67.
Jackman, Simon. 2009. Bayesian analysis for the social sciences. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Kiondo, Andrew. 1992. Tanzania and the IMF: The dynamics of liberalization. In The Nature of Economic Reforms in Tanzania, 2142. Hoboken, NJ: Westview Press.
Knorr-Held, Leonhard. 1999. Conditional prior proposals in dynamic models. Scandinavian Journal of Statistics 26(1): 129–44.
Lebovic, James H. 2006. Democracies and transparency: Country reports to the UN Register of Conventional Arms, 1992–2001. Journal of Peace Research 43(5): 543–62.
Malesky, Edmund. 2008. Straight ahead on red: How foreign direct investment empowers subnational leaders. Journal of Politics 70(1): 97119.
Malesky, Edmund. 2009. Gerrymandering Vietnam style: Escaping the partial reform equilibrium in a non-democratic regime. Journal of Politics 71(1): 132–59.
Martin, Andrew D., and Quinn, Kevin M. 2002. Dynamic ideal point estimation via Markov chain Monte Carlo for the U.S. Supreme Court, 1953–1999. Political Analysis 10: 134153.
Mmuya, Max, and Chaligha, Amon. 1992. Towards multiparty politics in Tanzania. Dar es Salaam University Press.
Mmuya, Max, and Chaligha, Amon. 1994. Political parties and democracy in Tanzania. Dar es Salaam University Press.
Prunier, Gérard. 1996. Somalia: Civil war, intervention, and withdrawal. Refugee Survey Quarterly 15(1): 3585.
Reinikka, Ritva, and Svensson, Jakob. 2003. The power of information: Evidence from a newspaper campaign to reduce capture. Working paper, Institute for International Economic Studies, Stockholm University.
Riedel, James, and Turley, William S. 1999. The politics and economics of transition to an open market economy in Viet Nam. OECD Development Centre Working Papers 152.
Rodrik, Dani. 1995. Why is there international lending? NBER Working Paper.
Rosendorff, B. Peter, and Vreeland, James Raymond. 2006. Democracy and data dissemination: The effect of political regime on transparency.
Stone, Randall W. 2008. The scope of IMF conditionality. International Organization 62(4): 589620.
Treisman, Daniel. 2004. Stabilization tactics in Latin America: Menem, Cardoso, and the politics of low inflation. Comparative Politics 36(4): 399419.
Vreeland, James Raymond. 2003. The IMF and economic development. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Williams, Andrew. 2009. On the release of information by governments: Causes and consequences. Journal of Development Economics 89: 124–38.
MathJax is a JavaScript display engine for mathematics. For more information see

Related content

Powered by UNSILO
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Hollyer et al. supplementary material

 PDF (4.6 MB)
4.6 MB

Measuring Transparency

  • James R. Hollyer (a1), B. Peter Rosendorff (a2) and James Raymond Vreeland (a3)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.