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Germany Joins the OGP with Government and Civil Society on Board

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Germany finally joined the Open Government Partnership on December 7th. Enthusiasm about Germany taking this step is high, since German civil society has been advocating for it since 2011. Though it had already been included into the coalition agreement by the current government in 2013, civil society had to wait until today to see it happening. Nevertheless, governmental activities in different areas suggest that “openness” has finally risen on Germany's  agenda as a whole.

Openness has risen on the government's agenda

Individual actors in government had long been aware of open government´s potential, but the majority still needed to be convinced, stated Beate Lohmann, Director General in  the Ministry of the Interior and in charge of open government, at a recent panel discussion. According to her the government only wanted to join the OGP when it could substantially contribute. And there is proof that this is the case now.

The German Ministry of the Interior is drafting an open-data-law at the moment, the Ministry of Education and Research is funding an open source software challenge, the Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure is heavily investing in digital innovation for mobility and the Ministry of Finance has just announced its commitment to the creation of a beneficial ownership register under the German Money Laundering Act and in line with the 4th EU Anti-Money Laundering Directive.

Shifting focus towards civil society

But still we are far from being able to conclude a success story of Open Government in Germany. What we see right now are good starting points which now need to be taken up to be embodied with concrete commitments that also represent the interest of civil society. The recent developments around Open Data in Germany have shifted attention to economic outcomes, more than the development of democratic processes and addressing civil society interests. Germany joining the OGP is a great opportunity to define rules and roles which enable German civil society to truly co-shape Open Government and the 1st national action plan in Germany.

The German OGP working group, an open association of civil society organisations, researchers and interested individuals with currently 14 member organisations and 4 individuals has come up with eight areas of action further detailed below. The thematic areas are part of an “open” draft paper which is still open for comments and feedback from interested parties. Especially data protection, IT security and the dialogue format “Zukunftsdialoge” are opportunities for the german government to contribute to international debates with already existing expertise.

  1. Open Data: The International Open Data Charter should be adapted, government data systematically opened and data driven innovation be stimulated by new ways of funding.

  2. Freedom of Information and transparency: To systematically ground transparency in politics and administration, Freedom of Information needs to be extended further of the political executive. Therefore parliamentary openness, open budget data and an open national legal information system are key.

  3. Citizen participation, collaboration and civic engagement: The national action plan should be used to enable real participation of civil society and experts - via various channels on- and offline - in political agenda setting and legislative procedures. Accordingly, binding rules for collaboration and participation of citizens need to be developed together and resources to support civil society actors interested in taking part should be made available.

  4. Dialogue format “Zukunftsdialoge”: The dialogue format “Zukunftsdialoge” by the chancellery should be continued and expanded with innovative methods, and the model should be presented and discussed internationally. In 2011-2012 all citizens were asked to submit concrete proposals for action using the internet platform "dialog-ueber-deutschland.de", focusing on the questions: How do we want to live together in future? How do we want to earn a living? How do we want to learn? With 11.600 suggestions and more than 98.947 comments already after 10 weeks the response was great. By June 2013 the website was visited more than 2.5 million times. Alongside input by more than 120 experts, academics and practitioners was also included.

  5. Innovation management and open innovation: The government should establish innovation labs which would include external actors in the governmental modernisation process.

  6. Handling personal data and privacy: The government should develop procedures and standards which in open structures maintain privacy through a privacy-by-design-approach. Within automated data generation ways should be developed to systematically protect data that is personal. Few countries have a data protection as deeply included into politics and administration as Germany. The government can build on this knowledge and share it internationally to find suitable solutions.

  7. Security of IT-systems in open government: IT-security should not be left out of the OGP-agenda. Together with other countries participating in OGP risks can be identified and solutions be developed.

  8. Developing competences and qualifications: the Federal government, the states and municipalities need to develop essential competences for Open Government. This requires education offers, which secure long-term capacity development. The national action plan should also be used to inform citizens through targeted campaigns about Open Government, in order to include them and let them partake.

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