Being within the Open Government Partnership (OGP), or even at the head of OGP, does not turn your country into a paragon of openness. On the contrary, it opens your country up to a process where you are criticised and supported. What it does mean is that you are open to debate.
The OGP is not a club. It is a platform, or a process.
What do I mean by this?
If OGP were a club, it would mean that ‘members’ are recognised for being ‘good actors’ in the open government movement having succeeded in passing a tough entrance exam. The main thrust of the initiative would be on crafting these ‘tough’ entrance requirements, and once in countries need to abide by certain rules of good behaviour but not attempt to stretch or compete against other members. Once you are ‘in’ a club, what else is there left to do?
But it is not. OGP is a platform.
The bar for entrance is purposefully fairly low (though not that low – there are around 87/88 eligible countries out of 196 worldwide). The focus of OGP is not on the entrance criteria but – as I have written elsewhere – on the ‘race to the top’: setting incentives for countries to stretch themselves further all the while knowing that each country starts from a different position. For more details on ‘stretch commitments’ relevant for countries at different stages on the journey to open government, please see the excellent Open Government Guide by the Transparency and Accountability Initiative.
Members of the steering committee may take positions to further the open government movement (e.g. embracing a governance goal in the post-2015 framework). But the bread and butter of the committee’s role is ensuring that the OGP lives up to its promise and catalyses a race to the top towards open government. To do so, it seeks to set common positions on issues such as restrictions on civic space, the Independent Reporting Mechanism, how to adapt innovations from one country to another etc.
OGP is as strong as what we make of it. It is up to us to take advantage of the process (the action plans, the reporting mechanism, the parity between government and civil society) to implement ambitious open government reforms. The question is: “what can OGP do for me?”