Last week my latest article — Opaque Transparency: How Material Affordances Shape Intermediary Work — was published online. Co-authored with Miron Avidan and Dror Eztion, both at McGill University, the paper asks: How do the material aspects of intermediary work affect regulators, targets, and beneﬁciaries?
To shed light on this question, we studied an information intermediary in the form of a website and the organizations who founded it. Specifically, we analyzed FracFocus, a self-regulatory initiative with strong industry ties, charged with disclosing data pertaining to the chemical used in oil and gas wells completed using hydraulic fracturing technology (fracking) in the United States and Canada. We found that between 2010 and mid-2017, the vast majority of legislation in states and provinces where fracking actively occurred was updated to mandate or encourage disclosure via FracFocus, meaning that it had a considerable effect on the trajectory of ofﬁcial regulation on fracking disclosure. We also found that FracFocus disclosed important data but did so in a manner that limited accessibility and reduced the comprehensibility of environmental and public health risks to beneﬁciaries. Our analysis suggests that the public’s experience of such a device is one of opaque transparency, in which the line between ofﬁcial and non-ofﬁcial regulation is blurred. We traced these outcomes to the material affordances created by FracFocus. The article will be published in Regulation & Governance as part of a special issue “Exploring the Formal and Informal Roles of Regulatory Intermediaries in Transnational Multi-Stakeholder Regulation,” edited by Luc Brès,
Avidan, M., Etzion, D. & Gehman, J. 2019. Opaque Transparency: How Material Affordances Shape Intermediary Work. Regulation and Governance. 13:197-219. doi:10.1111/rego.12217.