Testing the boundaries of OGP

Are governments most likely to reform before joining an international initiative or once they have joined it?

The answer to this question will go a long way towards explaining the impact of Open Government Partnership in the years to come. As I’ve discussed before, much of the premise of OGP is based on an incentive structure that encourages countries to race to the top once in the initiative.

But once in, how do you stop countries from sliding back down all the while helping others to stretch?

The EU is probably the most successful governance club in the world. The Copenhagen political criteria spell out how EU members should be democracies, abide by the rule of law, respect human rights and protect minorities. Even there (with many carrots at their disposal), the union has struggled to maintain the same level of ambition for new member states as it did in the heady early 2000s when countries were working hard to undertake the required steps to join.

The more countries want to get in, the more efforts they will make to join, the more difficult it is to keep the pressure on once in. On one hand, OGP has always sought to incentivize a ‘race to the top’ between members. On the other hand, there has also always been much discussion on the steering committee as to the pros and cons of a stricter approach towards OGP members that restrict space for civil society or violate human rights on a large scale (and a concern within civil society that countries could use OGP to ‘open wash’, much like ‘greenwashing’ in the environmental sector).

What are the implications for OGP? Three issues stand out:

The OGP has developed a draft ‘rapid response policy’ to deal with situations where OGP members violate human rights on a large scale and impose restrictions on civil society. It may seem bureaucratic, but whether that policy is approved in New York this September and subsequently implemented will be a significant test for the Partnership.

OGP should consider tightening its civil liberties eligibility criterion. OGP eligibility rests on four criteria – access to information, transparency of budgets, asset disclosure and civil liberties. The first three are based on specific indicators, but the latter is based on an aggregate indicator (the civil liberties sub-indicator of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s democracy index) and does not capture year on year trends. Changing this now with 64 members in the initiative will be challenging. However difficult, OGP should consider updating it.

Is there a need for an OGP index? Much like in the aid sector where the Aid Transparency Index ranks countries against each other and thus acts as a boost for the implementation of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), or the Open Budget Survey in the fiscal transparency sector, OGP might benefit from an independent, third party ranking system (which could either be an aggregate index, a dashboard bringing together existing indices etc.).

This should not obscure OGP’s central objective – how to ensure that open government reformers from all over the world meet, network, replicate successful reforms and scale their impact. But ensuring that high energy, low capacity countries progress upwards, whilst ensuring that low-performing countries do not dampen the energy of the rest of the group (e.g. using OGP to “open wash”) will likely be a significant test to OGP in the years to come.

 

 

 

Advertisements

What can OGP do for me?

We know that the Open Government Partnership is a powerful tool to implement national-level change. Brazil enacted its Freedom of Information Law thanks to OGP, the UK committed to public registries of beneficial owners of companies, the United States signed up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and many more.

But I think we are still missing a substantial trick here.

With 64 countries part of the OGP, how can we ensure that these reforms reach a truly global scale? It seems like a missed opportunity for example to focus on reforms in one country when these may well be equally applicable to 64 countries. How can we ensure that OGP is more than the sum of its parts?

There are two ways to scale open government reforms thanks to OGP:

OGP as a multiplier

If you are an NGO pushing for transparency about the real, beneficial owners of companies (to name but a few: Global Witness, Transparency International, Global Financial Integrity, Tax Justice Network), how are you using OGP to scale? We now have commitment from the UK, but how are you using OGP to achieve your goal across not one but 12, 24 or even 64 countries? From a campaigners’ perspective, OGP offers ‘action forcing events’ every two years (the country action plans) that can help galvanize political support behind key open government issues. If those issues are replicable, or need in fact to be replicated across countries to succeed (e.g. beneficial ownership), OGP can provide this multiplier effect.

 OGP as a caucus

If you are an NGO pushing for transparency reforms within international processes (e.g. World Resources Institute working on the Rio Summit and access to information, Transparency International working on the G20, Save the Children working on the post-2015 development framework) how are you using OGP to help create dialogue with governments already engaged in ambitious open government reforms?

If you want to engage an international forum on transparency matters (be it the Earth Summit, the post-2015 development framework or a G20/G7 meeting), OGP can help you in at least two ways: (1) identify OGP countries that are key decision-makers at the summit in question, (2) seek to bring together or caucus both governments and civil society to back the issue and help identify a common position. The Access Initiative successfully used this approach in 2012 in the run up to and during the Rio+20 Earth summit, getting governments behind Principle 10 and access to environmental information.

OGP is a platform – a vehicle to scale open government reforms – so ask not ‘what can I do for OGP?’ Use it to further your own goals and ask: ‘what can OGP do for me?’

 

 

OGP as a platform

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?”

 

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.