Conclusion: The politics of the transparency game
Does the expansion of the regulatory state to IRAs obviate democratic legitimacy? Are there institutional and procedural conditions that trigger democratic legitimacy in delegated regulatory policies? In this chapter we have sought to answer these central questions. Transparency, defined as intelligibility, visibility, access and public scrutiny, is embedded in certain characteristics of the regulatory process that may render IRAs more or less accountable not only to their political principals but especially to their constituencies, that is economic and social target groups (Bovens 2007; Peters 2007). It seems clear that different types of accountability bring up different research questions and require different research strategies to be analysed empirically. We have demonstrated that alternative forms of public scrutiny are possible in regulatory states characterized by IRA diffusion, and that transparency can function differently in regulatory processes in order to provide not merely disclosure but also public scrutiny of regulatory options, decisions and implementation. The difference is always in the details (Dahl and Lindblom 1953): certain characteristics of regulatory governance, conditions and tools of information and justification do in fact make a difference to the way public accountability and transparency are implemented and embedded in institutional arrangements and social relationships in regulatory policies.
As we are interested in exploring the social accountability dimension, we have focused on those techniques and tools that seek to provide transparency in terms of information and justification. In particular, we have identified different types of tools both in the early stages of the regulatory process (such as consultation and deliberation) and at the implementation stage (such as benchmarking and evaluation). Our research on social accountability regarding IRAs in the telecommunication sector provides some empirical evidence that needs to be extended by considering a larger number of cases. The 'transparency game' played by the regulatory authorities seems to be closely connected to the existence of a collaborative space where specific tools can be more or less active and reactive in guaranteeing public scrutiny and participation, and this is consistent with our assumption that transparency is one of the main features of accountability. In the specific cases that we analysed, both AGCOM and CMT prefer to use input-oriented transparency tools, such as public consultation and close consultations, rather than output-oriented transparency tools. Despite the fact that both authorities are open to participatory tools, consultations themselves are not overly transparent because the publication of stakeholders' opinions is still rare. IRAs' transparency policies, in an effort to become social accountability fora, are more active on the input side, in order to enhance highly qualified information and access to consultations, while they are less active on the output side and regarding the tools that should provide scrutiny of policy options and justification mechanisms on the implementation process. The only output-oriented tool adopted by these IRAs, in fact, is benchmarking, providing information and access to standard setting activities and service quality assessment. In both countries the level reached by the institutionalization of social accountability mechanisms and transparency tools depends on specific IRA decisions: the politics of social accountability involves the design and activating of transparency structures and procedures as well as their functions in the policy process. Our research demonstrates that while the Spanish authority is more engaged in expanding its output transparency tools, the Italian authority is more engaged in reinforcing its input transparency tools.
To what extent can the Italian agency's higher degree of social accountability on the input side be related to the higher degree of institutionalization and independence reached by AGCOM as compared with CMT (Nesti and Righettini 2012)? The difference could indicate that, in this domain, AGCOM's decisional autonomy (or isolation?) from the political principal is higher than that of CMT, giving the Italian IRA a stronger role as a social accountability forum. Nevertheless, these partial results cannot hide the fact that, for both AGCOM and CMT, the institutionalization of social accountability mechanisms, and of transparency tools overall, is still scarce and that in comparison with other countries or other policy sectors, the establishment of independence on social accountability needs to be more enlightened. We can observe that the relationship between IRAs' social accountability and independence is neither linear nor easy to explain and that the ability to act as a social accountability forum should be judged, case by case, in relation to the existence of collaborative and transparent tools in regulatory procedures.