The Ambition of Open Government Partnership

 

Coming back from two weeks on the road for OGP events, I’ve been struck by a few important developments within the global platform that OGP has now clearly become that I wanted to share:

(1) This seems obvious, but it’s worth emphasizing the degree to which OGP is a truly global platform. I was fortunate to attend the Paris Conference “from Open Data to Open Gov” where France announced it would join OGP. Then on to Bali, Indonesia where the Indonesian government hosted over 600 representatives  from all over the Asia Pacific region (incl. 20 representatives from Burma) for two days in an event presided by President Yudhoyono,  Minister Kuntoro and civil society co-chair Rakesh Rajani. And finally to Dublin, Ireland where the Irish government hosted what was likely the most important peer learning event to date where 29 European OGP country members discussed and debated lessons learned from their first OGP action plans as they prepare or finalise their second action plans. The level of government/civil society exchange taking place is symbolically and practically helping us re-imagine government.

(2) The Independent Reporting Mechanism – the independent body that monitors progress of OGP national action plans – has “starred” those government commitments that have significant social impact, are substantially or fully completed, and relevant to OGP values. 24.7% of OGP commitments from the most recent 35 OGP countries to have completed their action plans are starred. This means that out of the 783 government commitments that were recently assessed (those 35 countries from OGP’s ‘second cohort’), 194 commitments were ambitious, in line with OGP values and mostly or fully completed. From a funder’s perspective, I think this makes OGP one of the best returns on investment we’ve had. I can’t think of any other program I’ve been involved in that has led to almost 200 instances of change in 35 countries around the world in less than 3 years.

There are three other areas I’ve also been struck by in recent weeks and that point to OGP’s transformation and maturation as a global platform:

(3) OGP was created as a form of ‘solidarity network’ to bring reformers together, and it seems to be working. OGP has become a platform where senior politicians from both the left and right of the political spectrum come together, work together and relate to one another as ‘open government reformers’. This will create fascinating dynamics over the years to come. One of these dynamics is already apparent – foreign ministries are becoming more involved in OGP. This is important – we need diplomatic presence (clearer linkages to open government reform opportunities at the G20 and post-2015 development framework are precious). But I suspect the long-term success of OGP may in part be predicated on how well we strike the balance between OGP as a platform for reformers vs. a diplomatic forum. Domestic open government reformers could help inform and improve these international negotiations.

(4) The importance of what we call ‘peer learning’, i.e. how countries can learn from one another and replicate innovations from one country to the other (but also learn from their failures). Countries are committed: success going forward is about supporting their capacity to fulfill their commitments. We are starting to see some instances of exchange, but we still far too episodic (i.e. they happen but we don’t know enough how or why they happen). We are experimenting with the creation of smaller networks of open government reformers to see how these forums could help boost learning and networking.

(5) How best to harness the potential of the private sector: we are still missing investors at the table. If ‘open government is good for business’ as the OGP private sector council states, then where are the sovereign wealth funds, the pensions funds? These should benefit from better risk analysis and due diligence if they had both had (a) rigorous and extensive data on open government in a range of countries (see above), and (b) the ability of tools to quantify these.

I’ll be writing a few of these up in more detail and very happy to discuss if anyone would like more detail.

A prior version of this post stated that: “21% of 958 OGP commitments to date are starred.” In fact, according to the final versions of the reports, 24.7% of 783 the commitments were starred in the most recent 35 countries.

 

 

 

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…