This post was written by Warren Krafchik, civil society co-chair of the Open Government Partnership and Director of the International Budget Partnership.
At the end of the week I will join over 1,000 delegates from over 60 countries at the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Annual Summit in London. This is the second OGP Summit since its inception in 2011 and, in the words of the Summit organizers, it is an incredible “opportunity for the open government movement to consolidate and build momentum, to reflect on what is working and what is not, and to inspire all participants to return home equipped to pursue an even more ambitious reform agenda.” (For those unfamiliar with the OGP, it is a global multistakeholder initiative of governments, civil society, donors, and the private sector committed to making governments more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens.)
In anticipation of the Summit, let me start by saying that, at its core, the OGP is a conversation — among all of the stakeholders, both within countries and within the initiative itself. This will be reflected in what promises to be two days (three if you include the pre-Summit day set aside for civil society) of rich, informative, sometimes inspiring, and sometimes challenging discussions. As both the outgoing OGP co-chair for civil society and as the executive director of the IBP, I have both high hopes for the dialogue and an agenda for what I think the delegates need to progress.
On the first, there will be a strong and diverse group of CSOs participating in the Summit. Though there was broad civil society participation in the first Summit in Brasilia, the groups had yet to coalesce into a unified force within the initiative. This marks our first opportunity to demonstrate how critical civil society’s buy in to the OGP effort is to its success, and to use our collective wisdom, built from our experiences at the country and international level, to make a much bigger mark on OGP processes.
On what we should take up, as the OGP has shifted from the design phase to implementation, participants will be able to have a deeper conversation about what is working and what is not. I see four conversations that we need have.
- We must take a deep dive into the quality of consultation and dialogue happening within OGP countries. This should include discussions about standards for government/civil society/public engagement, existing models of good practice, and incentives to improve.
- We need to talk about how to increase the momentum of the initiative. To date, the OGP has been driven by a small number of governments, so we need to generate much broader buy in from member, and prospective member, governments. Top down alone won’t carry us forward, so we need to think about how to engage a much wider range of civil society organizations and citizens within countries and at the global level. Finally, we need to talk about how to ensure that the technicians within governments who have to roll out the OGP in their country are not given short shrift. On this point, the launch at the Summit of working groups to enable technical conversations between implementing agents are an important innovation.
- We can’t allow the challenges of pursuing open government to divert us from the OGP’s race to the top. So, we need to focus on how we can promote greater ambition in all our efforts. While the structure of the OGP acknowledges that each country starts from a different position, every participating country has committed to stretching their practices to be more accountable and responsive to their citizens. We need ways to ensure that action plans are about making these stretches, not just going for the easy wins or recycling previous reforms. And we need ways to measure this.
- Perhaps most important will be our discussions on how the OGP can defend against increasing efforts by governments in far too many countries around the world to crackdown on civil society. Key to this discussion will be the question of how the initiative will respond to evidence that an OGP country has taken steps to prevent CSOs and advocates from organizing, speaking openly, and receiving funding — or worse. While this may be a difficult discussion, it one that we, as champions of open government, cannot shrink from.
These, and others we’ll take up, are weighty topics, but let’s not lose sight of how the OGP has captured the imagination of governments and civil society the world over. There is much to be proud of in our accomplishments to date, but we must keep the momentum toward greater openness going. The Summit can be the start of an honest conversation about what is working and what is not and how to adjust policies accordingly to ensure that the OGP works for all of us, especially those who are often at the heart of initiatives like the OGP but too often at the margins of the dialogue.