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, can be of direct benefit to open government and engage with them via the OGP’s peer learning and support function. (Disclosure: NationBuilder and 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.


9 thoughts on “The Missing Link: How to Engage the Private Sector in OGP

  1. Excellent development indeed for the OGP to engage the private sector. The private sector however is a wide constellation of actors with different interests and incentives. In that area, there are several ways through which the private sector is already engaged, for example through venture philanthropies or private foundations. Engaging with credit agencies and how far they consider government transparency in their assessment of country and credit risk is important yet emerging.

    A set of actors I find missing in action here are sovereign wealth funds. After all, these are publicly-financed investors and therefore should also integrate ethical and transparency considerations in their investment decisions, especially for those funds from donor countries. And this is the greatest incentive of all also for the private sector to behave transparently and ethically. The example of the Council of Ethics of the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund is particularly instructive. As such, a first step could be for the OGP to promote this discussion and initiate a dialogue with the international forum of sovereign wealth funds.

    • Dear Carlos

      Thank you for your comment. Great idea re Sovereign Wealth Funds and starting with Norway makes a lot of sense.

      I should think/hope they may be interested in ways to assess the risk that lack of openness/transparency/participation/accountability presents for investors.

      Best, Martin

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  4. Martin,

    Thanks for mentioning the burgeoning OGP Private Sector Council. As a member of the founding core group, who works at the World Bank and lead the Open Private Sector platform, I would like to offer a perspective.

    With the OGP, countries are now starting to realize that open government data is improving transparency, creating opportunities for social and commercial innovation and opening the door to better engagement with citizens. Granted, it’s a great start, and we do everything we can at the World Bank to help governments on their OGP action plans. But helping opening up government data will not amount to much if we can’t eventually leverage partnerships with the private sector to have scale-up impact for development.

    Openness is not just for governments and citizens. The private sector also benefits as both producer and consumer of open data in complement to the OGP movement. In fact the private sector not only interacts with government data, but also produces itself a massive amount of data; much of which is actually directly linked to government regulations (think company ownership information, tax, product and ethical standards, labor and food safety compliance, public-private contracting, just to name a few).

    What we are dealing with here is a true ecosystem of open data and practices, with governments, business and citizens interacting in an ever complex matrix of information sharing. And as such, many foresighted businesses have adopted open and collaborative practices. Not for altruism or philanthropy, but because it can actually improve their bottom line. JP Morgan Chase provides information to the banking authorities on its thousands of subsidiaries. Wallmart works to offer visibility into their supply chain through real-time, anonymized worker feedback from 279 factories in Bangladesh. Armajaro tries to trace all its cocoa from Ghana through handheld devices and then shares information both to its purchasers, regulatory authorities and back to the producers for increased sustainability and governance traceability. Kalsaka mining in Burkina Faso makes its government contracts openly accessible so that local communities can check if the company is meeting its environmental and labor commitments.

    For many more companies, openness of data can translate into more efficient internal governance frameworks, enhanced feedback from workers and employees, improved traceability of supply chains, accountability vis-à-vis end consumers, and better service and product delivery. Open and collaborative private sector practices, because they help the private sector reduce cost and better manage risk, are thus a true win-win: they impact the bottom line AND also correlate with governance, environmental and social gains.

    It results in a paradigm shift. Before, captured knowledge was power in the business world. Now, in the hyper-connected, and ever-evolving world, transparency is the new power.

    The correlate though, is that as demand rises from large and small companies for more transparency and openness, the gap widens between the companies that have capacity and funds to afford open and collaborative behaviors, or to make use of open government data, and those who don’t.

    This is exactly why, to complement the work of the OGP with governments and citizens, we have launched at the World Bank the Open Private Sector platform, a suite of open data, web and knowledge services which can help bring in the private sector into the OGP movement. The Platform was launched first at the G-8 Summit in June of last year and its services were unveiled at the Open Government Partnership meeting in the UK in November 2013. We are still prototyping some elements while others are in full gear.

    – We launched the Open Company Data Index at with OpenCorporates to incentivize governments to increase corporate registries and to foster improved corporate accountability. This new data index examines the “state of play” of how countries enable transparent corporate registry information. What’s more, by aggregating open registry information, the OpenCorporates tools we support generate open-source, transnational datasets that can help curb corruption, check beneficial ownership, and deepen due-diligence and competitiveness analysis, thus benefiting the private sector.
    – We prototyped an “Open Supply Chain Global Dashboard” at with EcoDesk, and are preparing a global Open Suppliers platform with and OpenCorporates to help companies track and improve business ethics, labor standards, environmental footprint and governance practices. We are looking into giving all businesses the ability to display and track the source of so-called “conflict minerals”, rare woods, or other commodities. We believe that open supply chain systems can help reduce child labor, increase diversity, reinforce third-party certifications and service regulatory compliance.
    – We launched the Beneficiary Feedback App Store at to enable companies to track and resolve social, governance and sustainability issues through direct feedback from customers, governments and clients that can help inform strategic decision-making. The App Store is operated in partnership with Keystone Accountability, the Open Data Technology Alliance and the Feedback Labs to bring together a series of technologies that can be easily deployed by business wishing to connect to the bottom of the pyramid or provide feedback loops to government purchasers.
    – With we are exploring with the launch of a robust global dashboard of government contracts analytics designed for the private sector to effectively engage with the government market using cutting edge big data technologies, in order to offer unprecedented level-playing field insight into governments buyers, competitors, contracts and partners.
    – We launched with IFC, GIZ and CIPE, the Center for International Private Enterprise, and others a new Community of Practice on Public-Private Dialogue. The website is being re-designed with interactive features, e-Learning and user-to-user functionalities to offer the tools and services for companies to easily create engagement space with governments and citizens.

    Obviously, this is a start. We’re at the beginning of a journey. There are many questions for which we have no answers yet. For each of the areas covered, we plan to invest into learning lessons about their use in the private sector and their impact on the ground, and make them available widely, through technology, e-learning and partnerships with corporations.

    At the firm level, my hope is that the OPS Platform will create an enabling environment for businesses to adopt open behaviors along the business lifecycle. It should encourage companies – from suppliers to distributors – to be more open and collaborative among themselves and with governments and citizens, and to apply governance, social, and environmental solutions to their business practices.

    Government and civil society partners will benefit equally from the synergy created between the various platform components and partnerships. Opening up government for instance through Open Contracting can help increase government transparency and accountability, reduce graft, while providing technical assistance through the Public-Private Dialogue Hub can provide governments with tools they need to address the increasing demand for private sector involvement in development. Public-Private Partnerships are a good example of how knowledge and support can be transferred between government and the private sector. The OPS Platform will also foster the empowerment of civil society by providing access to data and dialogues that will enhance their ability to monitor government and private sector practices and provide efficient service delivery.

    The role of the private sector in the OGP agenda is vast, and the Open Private Sector platform coordinated by the World Bank is only a piece of it. But I believe it is an important one. The OGP Private Sector Council is here exactly to help put these types of solutions together, and the Councils Co-Chairs will soon be circulating a White Paper around the why, how, and what of the Council. The upcoming discussions at the OGP in Bali and Dublin will be a great occasion to sharpen these ideas.

  5. How many doors to democracy would open if a few of the “Big Brands” like Coca Cola and Procter & Gamble, and the first OGP countries like the US and the UK, would implement internal policies and executive orders to allow for the exponential growth of social media and crowdsourcing? Although 2+ billion people are now online, there are still 2/3 of the world left out. I am gratified to see an increasing number of companies and government entities allowing for unrestricted staff access to social media during working hours. This is one of the best ways to fight corruption worldwide. More here:

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