The Missing Link: How to Engage the Private Sector in OGP

Exciting Open Government Partnership (OGP) related development: a ‘private sector council’ has been created to develop recommendations for the OGP Steering Committee on engaging the private sector. This will not be an official OGP body but an external group that seeks to influence the OGP process, much like the Media Council did before the 2013 London Summit.

When we started Open Government Partnership, there were big ambitions about the extent to which the private sector might/could become involved. This hasn’t quite happened yet, hence a few thoughts on my side regarding ways to think about the private sector in the context of the OGP process:

(1) Consider partnering with / encouraging the development of for-profit companies that have government transparency and civic engagement at the core of their business plan. For example, SeeClickFix connects citizens with city or country governments to report public service delivery issues.  Another example is Mindmixer, which provides a platform to crowdsource community improvement ideas for cities. (Disclosure: SeeClickFix is an Omidyar Network investee).

(2) Target and engage private sector companies that benefit directly from open data to drive their core business, for example Mastodon C which used open data to open up innovation cycle in heathcare to identify £200m saving, or Carbon Culture which uses real time open data about energy use to underpin behaviour change programmes giving  ~10% year on year savings, or Spend Network which takes open spending data and turning it into commercial insight for governments and companies.

(3) Engage financial institutions, ratings agencies and provide evidence on the link between open governance and better investment climates. Consider inviting ratings agencies to OGP summit meetings. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, the link between transparency of budgets (and budgetary planning) and stability could and should be made much clearer (e.g. engage with the IMF and the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency to report on this at the Bali OGP meeting in May 2014).

(4) Provide incentives (via the OGP ) for the private sector itself to become more transparent. E.g. the extractive industries transparency movement which encourages oil, gas and mining companies to ‘publish what they pay’ to governments rich in natural resources.

(5) Consider how private sector platforms (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, but also NationBuilder, Change.org) can be of direct benefit to open government and engage with them via the OGP’s peer learning and support function. (Disclosure: NationBuilder and Change.org are Omidyar Network investees).

I welcome other perspectives on how we can encourage private-sector involvement in the OGP process and the role it should play.

Follow the Money, Follow the Data

Some thoughts which I hope may be helpful in advance of the ‘follow the data’ hack day this week-end:
The open data sector has quite successfully focused on socially-relevant information: fixing potholes a la http://www.fixmystreet.com/, adopting fire hydrants a la http://adoptahydrant.org/. My sense is that the next frontier will be to free the data that can enable citizens, NGOs and journalists to hold their governments to account. What this will likely mean is engaging in issues such as data on extractives’ transparency, government contracting, political finance, budgeting etc. So far, these are not the bread and butter of the open data movement (which isn’t to say there aren’t great initiatives like http://openspending.org/). But they should be:
At its heart, this agenda revolves around ‘following the money’. Without knowing the ‘total resource flow’:
  • Parents’ associations cannot question the lack of textbooks in their schools by interrogating the school’s budget
  • Healthcare groups cannot access data related to local spending on doctors, nurses
  • Great orgs such as Open Knowledge Foundation or BudgIT cannot get the data they need for their interpretative tools (e.g. budget tracking tool)
  • Investigative journalists cannot access the data they need to pursue a story

Our field has sought to ‘follow the money’ for over two decades, but in practice we still lack the fundamental ability to trace funding flows from A to Z, across the revenue chain. We should be able to get to what aid transparency experts call ‘traceability’ (the ability to trace aid funds from the donor down the project level) for all, or at least most fiscal flows.

Open data enables this to happen. This is exciting: it’s about enabling follow the money to happen at scale. Up until now, instances of ‘following the money’ have been the fruit of the hard work of investigative journalists, in isolated instances.

If we can ensure that data on revenues (extractives, aid, tax etc), expenditures (from planning to allocation to spending to auditing), and results (service delivery data) is timely, accessible, comparable and comprehensive, we will have gone a long way to helping ‘follow the money’ efforts reach the scale they deserve.

Follow the Money  is a pretty tangible concept (if you disagree, please let me know!) – it helps demonstrate how government funds buy specific outcomes, and how/whether resources are siphoned away. We need to now make it a reality.

Why is the OpenGov movement siloed?

As a follow up to my post ‘on the open government movement and silos’ quite a few people came back to me asking ‘well this is all very nice but why are open government groups not working better together?’ So here’s a shot at answering the question:

First, why should we seek to build a global open government movement?

(1) so that groups can work better, more strategically together to solve common problems (e.g. budget groups working with freedom of information and open data groups to make budgets public)

(2) so that we approach politicians and citizens with one common discourse around open government (and so we do not remain locked in our ‘geek box’). The fact that this year’s G8 summit will focus on transparency is a testament to how far we’ve come in convincing high level politicians that our agenda matters.

But why aren’t groups working together more effectively? Here is what I have heard from groups so far:

(1) Each community of practice (whether budget groups, freedom of information, open data groups, extractives’ groups) has its own language, discourse, way of working, basic reason for why they are doing this in the first place (e.g. whether to deepen democracy or decrease poverty) which can be a big barrier to doing business together

(2) NGOs are in competition for limited resources: why should civil society groups make an effort to coordinate when they will ultimately be competing against each other for a limited pot of funding?

(3) Coordination, partnership is hard work! Why do it unless there is a clear pay-off at the end? With limited resources to start with, why should CSOs work and partner together, when they could forge ahead with their own agenda (perhaps faster)?

What can we do about it and what is the role of the gatekeepers / gate makers?

(1) What can donors do? How can we better resource CSOs? Do large funds such as Making All Voices Count and GPSA help?

(2) What can international and national processes like Open Government Partnership (OGP) do to help bring people together? In my experience in the UK, OGP is playing a huge role in bringing together a broad group of civil society groups working on opengov that had previously never met nor worked on a common platform.

Ideas welcome! And I will mull over myself some more…