The Open Government Partnership - some thoughts
A couple of reflections on the Open Government Partnership Annual meeting Brasilia April 17-18.
It was a grand affair with a diverse range of participants
The Open Government Partnership (OGP) literally rolled out the red carpet for presidents and leaders from Tanzania, Brazil and the US Secretary of State at the opening of its annual meeting last month in Brazil. The opening ceremony celebrated the achievements of a partnership of 55 in a surprisingly fast time. The leaders all spoke eloquently of their commitment to transparent and accountable governance. There was an estimated 800 participants in attendance including representatives from governments, intergovernmental organisations and civil society. There was also a diverse audience, International Financial Institutions, Intergovernmental organisations as well as civil society which included traditional Freedom of Information advocates, transparency hackers, Open Government Data experts, academics and organisations working on budgeting, environment and extractives.
OGP a movement or an event?
Various speakers called OGP a movement, a center for innovation, and a mechanism to promote democracy throughout the world. Leaders and civil society spoke openly about the importance of OGP to new democracies. The most recent countries considering joining the partnership include Tunisia and Libya and speakers and civil society from these countries were inspirational in their support for the partnership. A number of speakers reflected at great length that the partnership was a forum for the free trade of ideas between governments and civil society. The strength of a joint steering committee was also on display at the meeting with governments and civil society co-chairing most of the events. The Steering Committee of OGP is co-chaired with the United Kingdom and Brazil alongside a civil society representative from the Open Budget Partnership. Whether OGP is an event or a movement is still anybodies guess. However some words from Hilary Clinton resonated with me. She stated that “a quarter of the world’s people now live in OGP countries, each of which has outlined concrete, credible steps that it will take to open the work of government so citizens are empowered, problems are solved, democracy is strengthened” and OGP has been “fought for by civil society and cannot succeed without it”.The annual meeting of OGP did provide a forum for dialogue between civil society and government, with opportunities for sharing, networking and facilitating learning about good practices across countries.
The good and the bad – there was no ugly
THE GOOD: There is a lot of promise in the OGP model.
In the two day event Governments outlined their action plans, priorities and commitments to improve transparency and public participation. Civil society was given an opportunity to comment on the Government commitments and provide their views on the process to define and engage on the action plan. Civil Society in many countries has already formulated coalitions to work on OGP action plans and complete shadow reports on government commitments and promises. In one of the most interesting session I attended called “Measuring the impact” it was clear that actually achieving the goals of OGP will depend on political will at the national level, defining indicators of success and creating an international mechanism to facilitate the independent review of the implementation of action plans.
THE BAD: Governments have failed to consult adequately in the development of their action plans with civil society.
Perhaps the most disappointing part of OGP was the number of Governments who failed to live up to OGP’s own rules and declaration on public participation in the development of action plans. Even those Governments that consulted seemed not to live up to minimum standards for good participatory processes. Time and time again in each session civil society outlined that governments did not give notice to a wide range of stakeholders, or provide adequate time for a response, and failed to take into account their concerns in action plans. A number of other Governments were criticised for failing to make stretch commitments i.e. simply using action plans to document already on-going activities.
Some ideas going forward
• Participation energises citizens. OGP action plans should detail the space for public participation and how dialogue on the commitments will be maintained.
• OGP should maintain its vision to be a platform for change that is based on independent review. Civil Society needs to be effectively engaged in assessing options for the independent review mechanisms for the Partnership as well as incorporated into networking sessions to promote adequate review and monitoring of commitments.
• OGP should continue to highlight innovation in approaches at the national level as well as commonalities among countries and design places for civil society and governments to learn from each other.
• Stretch commitments should be highlighted by the OGP steering committee as well as impact and achievements both short term and long term on transparency and public participation.