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…