The Open Government Partnership is now 65 countries strong. Those countries have used the OGP platform to make over 2000 open government reform commitments. Around the world hundreds of civil society organizations and activists have put their energy into making OGP a true partnership between government and citizens. In 2015 this pace of achievement must be strengthened in five areas as we begin the implementation of the new OGP 2015-18 strategy.
Stronger Country Plans
The core of OGP participation is a two-year National Action Plan co-created between government and civil society, with individual commitments that address the particular challenges a country is facing. In 2015 25 countries are required to produce new action plans, meaning there is an opportunity for reformers in government, and campaigners outside of government, to fight for ambitious policy commitments. OGP can also be real a race to the top between countries if the most innovative and testing commitments are replicated from country to country. This includes tackling politically challenging open government issues such as access to justice, security, money laundering and freedom of the press. It also means engaging a wider range of ministries and public facing agencies to be part of the OGP action plan process.
The following countries are expected to publish new National Action Plans in 2015: Argentina; Australia; Azerbaijan; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Colombia; Costa Rica; Finland; France; Ghana; Hungary; Israel; Kenya; Liberia; Malawi; Malta; Mexico; Montenegro; Norway; Panama; Peru; Philippines; Slovak Republic; South Africa; Turkey; and the United States.
These plans are mainly due by June 30th, with consultation meetings expected to begin this month. A major determinant of the strength of the final plans is how diverse and strong the civil society organizations are that engage in the process, including from the international coalitions on open government topics such as tax, extractive industries, open data and access to information.
Standing up for Civil Society
OGP countries are not immune from the worrying global trend that has seen space for civil society restricted, and in some cases funding choked off and activists jailed. Freedom of the press has also been under attack in far too many countries, often linked to efforts to expose corruption and access information, both core principles of OGP. Civil society needs the freedom to speak, associate, organize and operate, and the means to participate in public decision-making if they are to be able to engage effectively in OGP.
In September the OGP Steering Committee took the important step of agreeing a ‘Response Policy’, which acknowledges that there may be issues outside the scope of National Action Plans that have a major impact on successful participation in OGP, and creates an opportunity to address them. It has two objectives:
- Assist a country in question to overcome difficulties and to help re-establish an environment for government and civil society collaboration.
- Safeguard the Open Government Declaration and mitigate reputational risks to OGP.
The policy is now open for people involved in OGP at the national or international level to use. If the concerns are found to be valid, then OGP will focus primarily on positive interventions that seek to help countries overcome challenges. This is the ethos on which OGP was founded. This could include technical and political support from other OGP countries, OGP’s multilateral partners, or an OGP working group. If these interventions fail to address the problem then other measures will be considered by the OGP Steering Committee, including inviting the government concerned to a special session or listing a country as inactive until the concern is resolved.
Accountability for Commitments
One of the main challenges of participating in OGP is turning commitments into action. Implementation of complex reforms can be challenging, and OGP’s Independent Reporting Mechanism has shown that most countries have struggled to deliver everything in their action plans. There are two ways that OGP is seeking to address this challenge in 2015.
First, countries need more support on implementation of their reform commitments so that they have a lasting impact. OGP’s five multilateral partners are well placed to do this, if they have willing partners on the government side. Similarly the OGP Working Groups, currently focused on five policy areas (Open Parliaments, Access to Information, Open Data, Natural Resources and Fiscal Transparency), can provide expert advice in the drafting of commitments to give them the best chance of success. 2015 should also be the year that the role of the private sector in OGP is enhanced, to make good on the initial promise of utilising company expertise, resources and demand for openness. This could include stronger participation in National Action Plans and provision of technical assistance on implementation of OGP commitments.
Second, public accountability for National Action Plans needs to be strengthened. The IRM reports may be the best kept secret in the governance field, as they comprehensively and independently detail progress on individual commitments, the quality of engagement with civil society, and the national context. More people need to see and use the reports to increase their impact, including via media outlets, think-tanks and academia. As such the teams behind the country reports being published in early 2015 have been asked to step up their post-publication work, and use events, the press and social media to make sure their findings are more widely used (Argentina, Costa Rica, Finland, Ghana, Hungary, Indonesia, Liberia, Netherlands and Panama will receive reports in 2015).
An Inspiring and Meaningful Global Summit
For most of 2015 the OGP Steering Committee will be co-chaired by the Government of Mexico and Suneeta Kaimal, from the Natural Resource Governance Institute. They will be supported by the Government of South Africa and Alejandro Gonzalez, from the Mexican organization GESOC. The co-chairs have a vital leadership and agenda setting role throughout the year, most notably in the staging of the biannual global summit, which will take place at the end of October in Mexico City.
The summit is an opportunity to raise the profile of open government issues internationally and to explore how they link to some of the biggest challenges the world is facing, including growing inequality, public participation, trust in government, corruption and public service delivery. As on previous occasions the agenda will be shaped by an open call for proposals and preceded by a civil-society day. One of the highlights will be the 2015 Open Government Awards, which will showcase how efforts to make governments transparent and accountable have resulted in concrete improvements in the design or delivery public services.
The summit also serves other functions. It is the place where many of the connections are made that spark future peer exchanges between countries, one of the most exciting and useful benefits of participating in OGP. It serves as an action-forcing moment for countries to make new, ambitious commitments. Finally it is a moment to welcome new countries into OGP. There are currently 28 countries that are eligible to join but have not yet done so, a major opportunity for civil society and government reformers in those countries to make the case that being part of OGP is in the national interest.
Linking to the Sustainable Development Goals
2015 is a major year for international cooperation, with the negotiation of new UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) perhaps the most relevant to OGP. The OGP Steering Committee, and Americas region governments and civil society organizations, have both spoken out on the need to have transparency, accountability and participation at the heart of the new development goals. The 65 OGP countries could form a powerful caucus of governments already leading by example in prioritizing open government reforms.
The OGP platform itself could be a useful platform for delivering on the new SDGs, in a way that permanently involves civil society and has an in-built accountability mechanism.
Finally OGP can help drive a ‘Data Revolution’ that puts open, reliable and transparent data at the heart of the push for better development outcomes.
See more at: http://www.opengovpartnership.org/blog/open-government-partnership/2015/01/21/what%E2%80%99s-ahead-open-government-partnership-2015#sthash.gCH23RiN.dpuf