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The Future of Open Government

This blog post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

More than 4,000 people gathered in Paris from 7-9th December for the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Global Summit 2016 hosted by the Government of France. OGP is a unique partnership dedicated to making government decision making more open, inclusive and responsive. Summit attendees included representatives from 80 governments, many of them heads of state and senior ministers; leaders from cities, municipalities and regions; and leading civil society organizations from around the world.

The goal for the summit was to highlight the crucial role of open government as a countervailing force to the rise of various forms of nationalism and populism around the world. Although open government alone can’t solve this and other global challenges such as extreme poverty, climate change and mass migration, these problems can’t be solved without greater transparency and civic participation. 
To that end, the summit yielded outcomes that can help reshape the future of open government and combat threats to democracy around the world.


The Paris Declaration

The Paris Declaration launched at the summit generated more than 250 contributions from governments and civil society in OGP member countries grouped under three priorities: advancing progress on transparency and anti-corruption, accelerating action on sustainable development and climate change, and developing common digital tools and capacity. These contributions will not only advance the open government agenda, but will also serve as an inspiration for future commitments taken on by OGP members.

To address transparency and anti-corruption, the Philippines supported the collective action on transparency and participation in budgets and fiscal policies through the Full Disclosure Policy (FDP). This policy mandates that local governments post key budget and planning documents on the FDP portal and three other public sites. The portal enables the public to view, download and print financial documents so that citizens can understand how their local governments budget and spend on public services.

To address the objective of harnessing the data revolution for sustainable development and climate risk resilience, many contributions have been put forward. Partners will collaborate to advance the legal, regulatory and institutional mechanisms to enable the collection, management and reporting of data in order to better inform decision making. For example, the U.S. government, World Resources Institute and private sector partners jointly developed and recently launched the Partnership for Resilience and Preparedness (PREP), a platform to enhance access to climate risk data. By connecting PREP to OGP, members of the Partnership have committed to contribute their own climate risk data, making the PREP platform an even more valuable resource to improve policy responses to climate change.

To address civic tools, the French government developed an open government toolbox with the help of coders and reformers from 135 countries. At the OGP Toolbox website, governments, civil society organizations, cities and parliaments from all over the world can share and reuse digital tools using government information and data.

Building New Leadership

These types of open government innovations provide fertile soil for the next five years, but they require revitalized leadership and stronger coalitions to sustain their momentum.

First, OGP needs to create a new set of political champions. While much has been accomplished in the first five years of OGP, governments find themselves in new circumstances, challenged by the rise of populism and movements against globalization or weakened by internal corruption scandals. A new group of reformers with a zeal for leading the next phase of open government reforms is beginning to emerge. Leadership from the government of Georgia, which will co-chair OGP next year, and strong commitments from newly elected governments in Argentina, Nigeria and Canada are encouraging examples.

The second source of future leadership comes from subnational governments. Mayors, local councilors and civil society groups are all engaging in OGP as a new constituency for reform. Local actors have the greatest potential to promote changes in peoples’ lives by showing how increased access to information and greater accountability can be powerful levers of reform. Under Mayor Anne Hidalgo, the Paris city government is leading the way in participatory budgeting, with 500 million Euros earmarked in 2014-2020 for projects identified and prioritized by citizens.

OGP can also bring in new civil society constituencies. One example is the global community dedicated to action on climate change, which converged in Paris one year ago to sign the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change. Coalitions between government and civil society reformers who champion transparency and anti-corruption and advocates of climate action create a powerful new lever for the Partnership by showing how open data, transparency and participation in decision making are all vital elements in galvanizing national climate action. A major civil society meeting held in advance of the OGP summit showed the way by bringing together the climate, transparency and open data communities in identifying joint priorities for using open government to advance climate change.

Improving Human Wellbeing

The ultimate potential of open government lies in its ability to improve human wellbeing. Greater public participation in decision making, increased transparency in how public resources are used, and more public scrutiny over decision makers are all vital to deepening democracy in rich and poor countries alike. Without such changes, open government could remain a sterile dream, divorced from everyday existence and limited to experiments in open data and information. It is much more than this, offering an antidote to movements that seek to close down civic space and creating opportunities for people to more fully engage in the decisions that affect their lives.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Open Government Partnership, on the occasion of the 2016 OGP Global Summit in Paris. The Open Government Partnership is an international coalition of over 70 governments and thousands of civil society organizations working on open government initiatives. This series aims to highlight some key issues. For more information about OGP, visit http://www.opengovpartnership.org , #OGP16

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