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Shedding light on secrecy in organisations

Secrets within organisations can have widespread social, economic and political repercussions. An EU initiative is conducting a groundbreaking study on the timely yet widely overlooked field of organisational secrecy.
Shedding light on secrecy in organisations
Secrecy has been a hot topic in recent years following the very public debates about transparency and accountability resulting from WikiLeaks and other high-profile whistleblowing incidents. Despite the pervasiveness of secrecy, no systematic research has been carried out on the formal and informal social processes that deliberately conceal information from and by actors in organisations.

With EU funding, the project 'The "hidden architecture" of organizations: A study of organizational secrecy' (ORGSEC) aims to grow the body of knowledge on organisational secrecy by taking an interdisciplinary and methodological approach to research. The overall goal is to make the study topic relevant to the research community and inform on its far-reaching implications for groups, networks and organisations.

Work began by examining the concept of secrecy in social science literature, particularly organisation theory, sociology and philosophy. This study showed that secrecy is multidimensional and has a lasting influence on daily life.

A comprehensive analysis revealed that secrecy is a fundamental trait and process in organisations. Secrecy is firmly rooted in the very structures and ethos of organisations; it is not simply a by-product of what people choose to conceal or not.

Another study explored the culture found in some organisations that develops when several departments or groups do not want to share information or knowledge with other employees in the same company. Results showed that such groups, cliques or networks may actually encourage creativity and innovation.

Overall, research points to secrecy as a notion that should not necessarily be seen in a negative light, unlike transparency and public accountability.

ORGSEC put forward valid reasons for organisations and even governments to be secretive. Given today's emphasis on openness in all facets of public and private life, outcomes will have lasting implications for research, organisations, policymaking and society overall.

Related information

Keywords

Secrecy, organisations, organisational secrecy, transparency
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