Checking In On Open Government

This post was originally published on the Open Government Partnership’s (OGP) blog.

Every two years, the Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) team releases a huge batch of reports that assess how well Open Government Partnership (OGP) countries are achieving their open government commitments, as outlined in their National Action Plan. The reports are released a year into the national action plan cycle and developed by national researchers and international experts with inputs from civil society and government. Throughout February 2016, the 36 countries that started their action plans in 2014 will receive their progress reports.

The progress reports have two goals. First, each report gives civil society and government a chance to check in on which countries are keeping to their commitments. Second, they help us learn. At the national level, the reports help to improve the next action planning cycle. At the international level, they help to identify who is innovating and allow us to check in on the health of OGP as a whole.

This blog post focuses on the latter question of OGP health. To read about why and how you should comment on the progress reports, see this blog.

What can we learn from all of these IRM reports?

The reporting process produces an enormous amount of data and information that offer critical insights into the state of open government reforms around the world. By having this massive set of new OGP data, we can begin to look at trends across the organization. Here are a few quick observations based on the reports that we’ve received thus far:

  1. Governments are including civil society more in their planning. While there is still a lot of room to grow, governments — almost universally — were more open about their expectations and timelines for achieving their commitments. At the same time, many countries are getting better about consulting the public at large, often setting up formal national committees. Unfortunately, a number of those that had consultation at the beginning of the action planning process, lessened the amount of participation after initial enthusiasm.
  2. Checking the boxes is not enough. While it is definitely a good sign that OGP countries are more consultative, there are still many steps to make sure that participation is robust, that it is open and inclusive, and that proposals make a difference. Some of these steps are included in the recent “good practice” examples in the guidance for consultation during implementation (see pp 18-21 here). This means, among other things, making sure that the process for selecting representatives and invitees is open and fair, making sure there is a public process for tracking commitment implementation, and making meetings regular and predictable.
  3. OGP needs to tackle the big issues. In some countries, major progress has been made on the kinds of big issues that regularly make front page news. In a lot of OGP countries, however, the majority of OGP commitments are often small tweaks to websites, commitments to update documents, or recycling of already-existing initiatives (what the IRM considers “minor potential impact”). While every commitment doesn’t need to be a blockbuster, it will take the whole open government community to make sure that each country is tackling a few BIG issues in its action plan. These could be traditional open government issues (like getting a freedom of information law in place) or they could be working on a new open government approach to a country’s big problems (like security, trade, or climate change). This will require much more push than the IRM can provide. It will require a big sustained push from national civil society and more bragging by the countries who are really pushing the big issues in a positive direction.
  4. More focus is needed on follow through and completion. We need to think harder about why commitments do not get implemented or remain incomplete. Depending on the problem(s), there may be important moments of intervention to remove the roadblocks to completion. This may mean better action plan design, better high-level political engagement, smoother plans for transition during elections, or more multilateral support. Most importantly, this may require continued civil society pressure and more empowered government points of contact.
  5. Starred commitments point the way victory. If you take a look at the recent reports you will see that there are stars next to some of the commitments. These commitments clearly aimed to open government, were ambitious, and are on their way to completion. OGP needs more of the commitments

Next Steps

Over the coming weeks, IRM researchers in each country will work to promote the key findings and recommendations in their reports to help improve the next action plan. They will be looking for participation and involvement from civil society and government actors.

The IRM team will also work to put all of the report data up for easy use on the OGP Explorer and for general download. As usual, we maintain an “open door policy” on the reports. We make it a priority to help anyone who wants to learn from the OGP data or use it for advocacy.

Finally, we will work to develop an IRM technical paper which will give us a sense of the health of the organization. The paper will cover a variety of topics and, for the first time, assess how OGP action plans and countries have changed over time. We expect this paper a little after mid-year.

This post originally appeared on the OGP Blog. See the original post here

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