This piece was also posted on the Natural Resource Governance Institute blog.
Like the Open Government Partnership, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) is premised on equal partnership. Full, meaningful participation of independent civil society at both the national and international levels is a cornerstone of the initiative and enshrined in the Civil Society Protocol. The participation of civil society in the EITI is assessed when a country applies to join and when it is considered for “validation” or full compliance with the 2016 Standard. When issues of harassment and intimidation arise, the Rapid Response Committee may be called to investigate breaches in the principles and provisions of EITI. Representation of civil society on the board is determined by the constituency in a process led by the Publish What You Pay global coalition, which is made up of more than 800 member organizations across the world.
Sounds pretty good, right? A protocol setting the terms of engagement, an accountability mechanism to ensure the principles of participation are respected, a concerted body to respond to crises and violations and an independent nominations process. And all in the context of an initiative in which trust and dialogue across stakeholders has been built for nearly 15 years.
But at the EITI Global Conference in Lima last week, the fundamental principles of EITI were put to the test. Improper interference in the civil society nominations process threatened multi-stakeholder collaboration and the independence of civil society, and raised grave governance questions. Civil society representatives at the conference boycotted a meeting of the highest governing body of EITI in protest. The cry of “We will not be silenced!” spoke not only to these transgressions at the international level, but also called attention to the countries around the world where civil society is under threat. In EITI, as in OGP, the strength of the initiatives relies on all stakeholders consistently and constantly championing equal, independent civil society engagement.
Reflecting on the events of last week, I wondered about the implications for OGP. Since its inception, OGP has strived to change the dynamic between governments and citizens and to create and protect space for meaningful engagement with civil society. In countries around the world, we have seen this lead to concrete policy reform. However, the challenges of multi-stakeholder engagement and risks to civil society abound. Being in Lima reminded me that we as OGP cannot afford to be complacent, but instead should take cues from the EITI experience to protect the principle of equal partnership:
Update OGP’s requirements for civil society engagement to include best practices with regard to feedback loops, co-creation, co-implementation and permanent dialogue mechanisms. The eligibility criteria and the consultation guidelines in OGP’s Articles of Governance require a certain threshold of civil society engagement in the partnership, which is assessed by the Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM). We have learned from the experience of implementing OGP and now need to further refine the requirements. For example, EITI’s Civil Society Protocol points to the importance of freedoms of expression and engagement in public debate; ability to operate, communicate and cooperate across civil society; full active and effective engagement in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation; and access to public decisionmaking. OGP can also be more explicit about what constitutes good practice in civic engagement and provide guidance to enable the IRM to effectively monitor performance on this central tenet. The ultimate test will be how what’s on paper is translated in practice, but we can ensure rigorous requirements are in place.
Reinforce trust and practice with formal policies and procedures and uphold the principle of partnership in times of crisis. The trust and confidence that we are building across stakeholders is essential to the success of OGP at the country and global levels. The good practice that trust enables must also be enshrined in the policies and procedures of the initiative. As a new initiative, we value flexibility and opportunism as we hone our ways of working. However, last week’s EITI events demonstrated the need for clear procedures that reinforce the principles of multi-stakeholder engagement and to stand by those processes and values when they are tested. In parallel to the events in Lima, OGP’s Criteria and Standards subcommittee met to discuss next steps in several response policy cases under consideration. Whether and how OGP will reinforce the principle of partnership in the review of these cases is a critical open question.
Work toward mainstreaming both openness in government systems and institutions and the principle of civic engagement. The new 2016 EITI Standard proposes to “mainstream” extractives transparency into the regular reporting systems of governments and companies, spanning the decision chain and connecting the dots for users who otherwise have to seek information from disparate sources. The practice of disclosure and multi-stakeholder collaboration becomes not an isolated practice associated with a single initiative, but rather the regular way that governments deliver results for citizens. OGP is already making strides this direction due to the breadth of the agenda, and changing the way that governments and citizens engage. Ultimately, a mainstreaming approach will support the sustainability of the open government agenda.
The future of EITI and OGP is yet to be written, but by sharing and learning lessons between both initiatives, we increase the likelihood of our collective success.