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Actions for Transparent and Accountable Digital Governance

In support of Open Renewal, the Co-Chairs of OGP, the Republic of Korea and Maria Baron of Directorio Legislativo, have launched a global call-to-action for all OGP members in 2021 to use their new and existing action plans to make ambitious commitments that address core challenges. This includes anti-corruption, civic space and participation, and digital governance where they can share their expertise and experience. Read their letter to the community here.

Innovation and the use of digital technologies have always been an integral part of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in advancing open government reforms. Moving beyond eGovernment, OGP members have used digital technologies to streamline government processes and enhance transparency, accountability, and participation.

Since OGP’s inception in 2011, there has been a significant increase in the number of action plans on digital transformation and technology. The access and use of digital technologies have fundamentally changed the way democracy functions over time. New spaces and platforms for engagement have opened up and have transformed citizens from passive beneficiaries into active participants who can help identify solutions to governance challenges. Given these advancements, governments need to catch up, adapt, and digitally transform themselves by using digital tools to work and collaborate with citizens.

However, the use of digital technologies can be a double-edged sword. Recent events have shown that open government and democratic processes can be easily undermined by the misuse of technology, both in global north and south countries. Data-driven, micro-targeting by unregulated digital political campaigns has shown how digital tools can be weaponized. The use of automated decision making has been questioned as to whether it is transparent, does not discriminate, and if it preserves privacy in pursuit of fairness. Weak data privacy laws have enabled the use of digital surveillance against journalists and civil society that infringe on citizens’ rights to security and privacy.

The COVID-19 health crisis demonstrated how digital technologies can be both used as a critical tool for disseminating information, as seen in the Republic of Korea and Taiwan, and a tool to stifle democratic dissent as seen in the Philippines or Kyrgyz Republic. The increasing dependency on social media and other digital platforms have affected the way individuals process and act on information. 

The rise of the infodemic has flourished as populations that mistrust their governments have a high risk of acting on unreliable information obtained through social media platforms. Social media algorithms designed to increase user engagement have contributed to the increasing polarization of views and have undermined trust in traditional journalism. The digital divide has also fostered unequal access and digital information gaps, especially among women, the elderly, and members of the disability community.

A 2019 strategy input paper identified the role that OGP could play in strengthening cross-country and cross-sector coalitions to advance digital rights and governance, as well as foster dialogue on norm creation on a number of key issues. This is an essential area to strengthen mutual trust between governments, the private sector, and civil society to achieve OGP’s partnership-wide goals of economic recovery, overcoming systemic inequalities, safeguarding threats to democracy, and having a more citizen-centered democracy. 

The 2021 call-to-action put forward by the OGP Co-Chairs, the government of the Republic of Korea and Maria Baron, Executive Director of Directorio Legislativo, is a bold and timely intervention. Notably, the need to “maximize the potential of digital technologies to further advance democracy and promote inclusive digital innovation to bridge the digital gaps and embrace disadvantaged communities while continuing opening up high-demand public data.” 

The OGP Support Unit has identified policy areas that highlight digital transformation, inclusion, and digital governance. This is not meant to be a cumulative list, as this is a fast-evolving landscape and all context-specific policy needs may not be covered by the examples below. The policies draw on recent resources created in collaboration with OGP partners, including the Open Government Guide (post-COVID edition). OGP will continue to work with partners to gain a deeper understanding of the role open government can play for these reform areas, and where OGP’s multi-stakeholder global platform and domestically-owned action plans can catalyze reforms. These policy actions may be implemented at both the national and local government levels depending on mandate and country context.

Promote Inclusive Digital Transformation and Innovation

  • Digital inclusion: Make digital citizen engagement inclusive. The digital gap prevents certain communities from fully participating online, especially women, indigenous, LGBTQIA+, rural and low-income communities, as well as persons living with disabilities. Ensure that internet access is inclusive and addresses barriers to affordability and accessibility for underrepresented communities and geographically isolated regions. Additionally, understand gender-specific challenges of online engagement by analyzing disaggregated registration data by age, gender, and relevant demographic data, taking into account privacy of individuals, and assessing existing data on online harassment via consultation and research.  
    • Latvia is creating open public internet access points to make digital tools more accessible.
    • Argentina created a website that provides legal resources in the context of the pandemic to vulnerable groups, including information on reproductive legal rights. 
    • Data from the Web Foundation shows that globally men are “21% more likely to be online, rising to 52% in under-resourced countries.” Access to information “provides for a more meaningful voice, enabling women to participate in public life, access public services.” and is vital for civic engagement in a COVID-19 world. Consider a blend of online and offline opportunities to strengthen engagement and inclusion or propose a specific commitment to improve access for women and girls such as Sierra Leone
    • Colombia created an interactive web platform and call center to ensure access to information for blind and deaf citizens.
  • Digital transformation for open government: Use of digital tools for monitoring of public services should be augmented with adequate feedback and redress mechanisms.
    • Through the Citizen Eyes and Ears mobile app in Kaduna, Nigeria, the government discloses the geo-location of publicly-funded projects and citizens upload photos and feedback on these projects which go directly to the Governor’s office and State Legislature for corrective action. This initiative has been recognized as part of the new pilot OGP Leaders Network.
    • Estonia developed an online platform for public monitoring that provides detailed comparative information of all local municipalities in public service provision and open government.  
    • In Paraguay and Colombia, the government publishes emergency contracts as open data that civil society monitors, including by tracking price differences for COVID-19 supplies; in Ukraine, the DoZorro platform encourages civil society to monitor the procurement of all the products and services, including those which are COVID-related.
    • The city of Madrid uses the platform Decide Madrid to enable citizens to submit ideas for solidarity, connect with businesses in their neighborhood, and ask municipal experts questions about the crisis directly.
    • In Brazil, the senate provides legislative responses to COVID-19 questions proposed by citizens through the e-Citizenship Portal; and Scotland held an online consultation to enable the public to submit and rate comments on the government’s COVID-19 response.
  • Open data: Government information should be published in open data formats for increased access, use, and interoperability across various datasets.
    • Lithuania launched an open data portal, as well as a new financial portal that includes 12 large-scale financial datasets, for each of its 60 municipalities. 
    • Paraguay published open data on the quality of health services to grant citizens the information needed to participate in shaping health resource allocation and policy.
    • Sweden convened multi-stakeholder panels to determine an open data approach to food supply chains, in addition to other sectors.
    • OGP published “A Guide to Open Government and the Coronavirus: Open Data” that highlights examples of COVID-19 open data such as research datasets from the United States and European Union, open epidemiological data in Switzerland and Basque Country, as well as open data on medical supplies and testing in Korea. Where possible, this data should be disaggregated by relevant categories such as gender, age, and other demographic data.

Safeguard Against Misuse of Digital Technologies

  • Data Protection: Implement appropriate data management policies that are aligned with global norms with regard to protecting data rights, use, storage, and privacy.
  • Accountability of automated decision-making: Create policies that increase transparency, openness, and oversight on the use of automated decision-making systems in the public sector
    • France committed to publishing public algorithms to improve the transparency of source codes and is working within its government to develop a shared methodology for more open information systems.
    • Canada developed a government directive “to set rules on how departments can use AI ethically to make decisions.”
    • Netherlands drafted and mapped frameworks and guidelines for government organizations as a tool for making algorithms openly available.
    • New Zealand created an algorithms charter on operational algorithms that will result in, or inform, decisions directly impacting individuals or groups. This will allow citizens to understand how their personal data is used by the government. The initiative has been recognized under the pilot OGP Leaders Network.
    • The OGP blog series on Open Algorithms highlights practical considerations of implementers working on algorithmic accountability policies, including through their OGP action plans.
  • Accountability of online political communication: Develop regulations and guidelines for transparency and accountability for use of online political advertising; and establish avenues for oversight agencies such as courts and regulatory agencies to identify what constitutes acceptable political advertisements.
    • Protect against surveillance and censorship: Create policies to limit abusive surveillance and safeguard against censorship and arbitrary shutdowns. With regard to internet censorship, governments must ensure that content-based restrictions meet international standards for civic rights.
      • Mexico established a group of experts from a variety of sectors and government agencies to analyze and modify regulations on the use of surveillance in private communications. All changes will be made in accordance with existing national and international human rights standards.
    • Prevent online harassment: Establish platform procedures to prevent and address online harassment: Platforms should work with governments, independent experts and civil society to identify and flag harmful content; ensure regular disclosure of remediation actions taken, including on data privacy; enhance law enforcement agencies’ awareness of the issue; and ensure laws appropriately deal with online gender-based violence and antisocial behavior, including online harassment, abuse, impersonation, catfishing, doxxing, revenge porn, and violence.
      • Online harassment, including abusive language and cyberbullying, can further amplify exclusion when individuals also “experience attacks based on their identity such as gender, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity” according to the Web Foundation.
      • Build on existing gender-based violence and open data commitments like Uruguay’s interventions to create safer spaces for participation online, including codes of conduct, disaggregated user data, active moderation and reporting mechanisms, and introducing or amending laws that govern gender-based violence to include online harassment, abuse, or violence.
      • OGP published “A Guide to Open Government and the Coronavirus: Inclusion and Gender,” which identified initiatives that have been used during the pandemic.
Open Government Partnership