Ethan S. Bernstein

Harvard Business School

Making Transparency Transparent: The Evolution of Observation in Management Theory

Observation is key to management scholarship and practice. Yet a holistic view of its role in management has been elusive, in part due to shifting terminology. The current popularity of the term “transparency” provides the occasion for a thorough review, which finds (a) a shift in the object of observation from organizational outcomes to the detailed individual activities within them; (b) a shift from people observing the technology to technology observing people; and (c) a split in the field, with managers viewing observation almost entirely from the observer’s perspective, leaving the perspective of the observed to the realm of scholarly methodology courses and philosophical debates on privacy. I suggest how the literature on transparency and related literatures might be improved with research designed in light of these trends.