Authenticity vs Transparency: What’s the Difference?
Heads up, this content is 16 years old. Please keep its age in mind while reading.

Last weekend I twittered, “I wanna see a Venn Diagram that shows the differences and overlaps between ‘Authenticity’ and ‘Transparency’.”

The thought immediately attracted conflicting (yet brilliant) definitions of the terms.

“‘authenticity’ is about relevance, ‘transparency’ is about defensiveness. the overlap is accidental and uncorrelated.”
— Jenka Gurfinkel, social-creature

“authenticity = what is alive in me, transparency = a conscious choice to disclose that b/c I want to live in that kind of world.”
— Emma McCreary, joy ninja

Understandably confused, I started asking around for more thoughts on the matter. Here are some of the responses that came in…

“I don’t think authenticity means anything more than what is real and true. And I agree that transparency is about how much of what is authentic you choose to give those outside the window in to see. No one said it had to be 100%, by the way. You have choice. That choice is the overlap.”
– Elisa Camahort Page, Worker Bees Blog

Aha! The Venn Diagram!


Beth Kanter continued the conversation over at BlogHer and her own blog, relating the concepts to the nonprofit sector and pulling in some great comments. She also dug up the wikipedia definitions:

  • Authenticity refers to the truthfulness of origins, attributions, commitments, sincerity, devotion, and intentions.
  • Tranparency means open, frank or candid.

Mark Resch took the business angle: “authentic means authored by who you think made the thing in question. transparent means that the author made it so that you (or anyone) can see how the relevant parts work—especially the important inputs and outputs.

Meanwhile, another tech industry thinker (who in a completely relevant way asked to remain anonymous) said, “Not being 100% open about everything I know in my professional technical field actually makes me trusted. If people know they can go to you and share information that is yet to be made public and know you are not going to share…. well this makes you trusted. So ‘radical’ transparency is actually not ‘good’ for building trust and relationships. Authenticity is more about how you are sharing and is it ‘true’ and real for you in relationship to others.”

My friend Koan added some pithy thoughts to the pile: “Authentic is what I say about who and what I am – transparent is being open about why I’m saying it. Authenticity is walking the talk – transparency is talking the walk.”

And then Emma threw in another quick summary: “Authenticity is a need — transparency is a strategy. Thus transparency can meet a lot of different needs for different people, authenticity is just one of them.”

George Kelly of allaboutgeorge went for the meat of the definition. “Transparency is an internal choice projected externally, how one acts based on how one desires to live. It’s demonstrated and performed by one person or entity for an other (or others). Authenticity is a valuation, a label, about one’s essential nature, from the outside-in. It accrues to a person or entity and is attached by others (or an other).”

Amy Gahran of put it all into straightforward terms: “I think of “transparency” mainly in terms of disclosure — opening up your process of creation or exploration to examination — not simply selectively displaying the finished, polished product. I think of “authenticity” in terms of being honest (true to yourself and others) about who you are, the role you’re playing in a given context, and your values and identity. This is more of an internal mindset that influences what you end up creating, saying, or doing online or in the real world — whereas transparency is more of an external practice.”

But what about where the green part of the diagram? Whitney Moses tackled that one: “If your true self is very private, then over sharing wouldn’t be very authentic, but it could be transparent. Everyone can tell they’re inauthentic when they’re trying to put up a good front.”

Finally, Melinda Klayman boiled it down to the point: “Authenticity is about meaning what you say. Transparency is about saying what you mean.”

Thank you all for your brilliant thoughts.  I think I get it now.

If you like this post and would like to receive updates from this blog, please subscribe to the feed. Subscribe via RSS

8 Responses to “Authenticity vs Transparency: What’s the Difference?”

  1. Emma McCreary Says:

    NICE! I really love the Venn diagram. I have been waiting since you twittered, wondering what the Venn would turn out to be. That’s right on!

  2. joy ninja » Choice is a Crucial Ingredient in Non-Violence Says:

    […] and transparency over the last week with Sarah Dopp which has led to a very spot-on Venn diagram of transparency vs authenticity – the overlap is […]

  3. Beth Kanter Says:

    Nice summary and I like the diagram too!

  4. Beth Kanter Says:

    Thought I also connect some dots

  5. Dopp Juice » Blog Archive » Needs, Strategies, and Choice: the authenticity/transparency epilogue Says:

    […] McCreary of Joy Ninja took my Elisa Camahort Page-inspired Venn Diagram about authenticity and transparency and made it more […]

  6. links for 2008-02-24 | Flamingo House Happenings Says:

    […] Dopp Juice » Blog Archive » Authenticity vs Transparency: What’s the Difference? “I wanna see a Venn Diagram that shows the differences and overlaps between ‘Authenticity’ and ‘Transparency’.” […]

  7. - links for 2008-02-24 Says:

    […] Dopp Juice » Blog Archive » Authenticity vs Transparency: What’s the Difference? Sarah Dopp got some great answers to this question: “I wanna see a Venn Diagram that shows the differences and overlaps between ‘Authenticity’ and ‘Transparency’.” (tags: authenticity transparency mycoverage) […]

  8. MattG Says:

    I love the differences in thoughts and opinions on the subject. This is a very interesting article and I love the venn diagram depicting the relationship of the two, nice work.