Preparing the Plan
Involving society in the development of the national action plan – or as a bare minimum, organized civil society – is one of the cornerstones of OGP. It is the first step of shaping national partnerships. After all, strengthening the relationship between citizens, society and government is one of the aims of OGP.
Official OGP Guidance
Taking into account relevant national laws and policies, OGP participants agree to develop their country action plans according to the following principles:
- Countries will make the details of their public consultation process and timeline available (online at minimum) prior to the consultation
- Countries will consult widely with the national community, including civil society and the private sector; seek out a diverse range of views and; make a summary of the public consultation and all individual written comment submissions available online
- Countries will undertake OGP awareness raising activities to enhance public participation in the consultation
- Countries will consult the population with sufficient forewarning and through a variety of mechanisms—including online and through in-person meetings—to ensure the accessibility of opportunities for citizens to engage
- Countries will identify a forum to enable regular multi-stakeholder consultation on OGP implementation—this can be an existing entity or a new one
- Countries will report on their consultation efforts as part of the self-assessment, and the independent reporting mechanism will also examine the application of these principles in practice.
Prepare and Engage: Tips and Tricks
Getting the consultation right has not proved to be an easy task. While many governments are used to having discussions with civil society, having a dialogue leading to real partnership is something entirely different. Here are some useful suggestions to tackle the consultation process based on our experience:
- Make sure you take enough time. You need to prepare, get the word out, give people time to respond, analyze and discuss the inputs, take them on board (or not) and provide feedback to the broader community.Getting this right may require multiple cycles. Scheduling several months for initial public inputs is advisable.
- Involve stakeholders beyond the usual suspects. Perhaps you already have an established network of organizations you work with on one of the OGP topics, or you might have a national civil society coalition. It is a great idea to involve these actors, but do not limit yourself. First, brilliant ideas might come from actors you do not know yet – OGP commitments can cover many issues that are not always traditionally seen as part of “governance” work such as health or education. Second, citizen engagement is a core principle of OGP because of the tremendous value that diverse inputs have for public decision-making processes. Third, exclusion might create unnecessary resistance. And last, you might not know yet who you will need at what phase of OGP. Keep in mind that it is best to cast a wide net.
- Not just online consultation. It is easy to publish a draft action plan online and wait for public responses. But not every citizen is a regular visitor to government websites. Some people might not be very tech-savvy or even have Internet access. Using online tools to reach out and get responses is a great idea, but do not limit yourself to it. Make sure,if and when you use online consultation, that people know about it. This means involving regular media channels, your own social media channels, networks of civil society partners and any other means of public awareness raising that may prove effective. Again, cast a wide net. This also means reaching out to academics, social movements, faith-based organizations, and business associations that can bring OGP to new audiences at the community level.
- Go outside the capital. Most civil society organizations are based in the capital – like government. And physical meetings are a great idea. But don’t forget to reach out to the rest of the country, again through a mix of physical and virtual meetings and interactive forums.
- Appreciate input, provide feedback. If people comment on the draft action plan online, or present their own set of commitments, it can help to, at a minimum, acknowledge receipt of such input. The best practice is to provide clear feedback on the comment/suggestion and let people know if you will take it on board or why not. It is also a good practice to bundle all public input and reactions and publish them for transparency’s sake.
- Try to include unorganized civil society and citizens as well. Working with the media to engage these actors is a great idea. Inviting a diverse range of organizations to the meetings is a good idea as well. Organizing town hall meetings for citizens is one way to generate feedback from average citizens and explain what open government can do for them in their daily lives.
- Be transparent on process and timelines. From a survey we did among civil society organizations, we learned that for many colleagues it was very unclear what the process, format and timeline for input into country action plans was. Design the process smartly, share the plans for this process widely, and publish the draft online early. This will prevent a lot of unnecessary questions and confusion.
And lastly, make use of the time, experience and network of the Civil Society Coordinator’s team. Our capacity is limited, but we have had the opportunity to work with civil society in many countries and share experiences off- and online. In some cases we have played an active role in the national consultation process (i.e. Mexico, Brazil).
More information about consultation processes worldwide can be found in the country articles we released in the summer of 2013.
Also, you can consult the additional guidelines for OGP participation and co-creation process, produced in January 2017.
PREPARING: DRAFTING THE FIRST ACTION PLAN
Participating countries in the Open Government Partnership pledge to deliver country action plans that elaborate on concrete commitments on open government. In each country, these commitments are developed and implemented through a multi-stakeholder process, ideally with the active engagement of citizens and civil society.
OGP action plans are meant to be living documents that can be updated on a rolling basis. Each country’s action plan contains concrete commitments related to open government reforms that governments pledge to implement. Those commitments may build on existing efforts, could identify new steps to complete on-going reforms, or might initiate actions in an entirely new area.
It is really important for civil society to be strategically prepared for this phase:
- On the side of the government, identify the official/agency that has taken the lead on OGP commitment development and implementation and seek a meeting with this person/agency to discuss your ideas about open government priorities. Additionally, identify other reformers that could or should join the OGP effort, and analyze where the political backing in the government could come from.
- On the civil society side, convene a meeting of key civil society actors and discuss policy priorities and objectives within the open government sphere. Don’t limit yourself to the ones working on transparency, accountability of participation, better yet, include more specialized actors as well. Try to strategize and prioritize: what are the key priorities you should push for; where is the political space; which actors are better suited to co-govern OGP from the inside; which actors are better suited to monitor from the outside; how can civil society be organized as a coalition or forum.
- On outreach and partnership, actively engage with the government to make the consultation process and action plan drafting a success. Often, civil society organizations are more experienced in consultation and outreach than thier government partners. Offer a helping hand, as it will help you build a good relationship with the government and will enable you to influence the process. When possible organize multi-stakeholder outreach events with government, civil society, the private sector and other key actors to share information on OGP and promote awareness about the initiative at the local, national and/or regional level.
Commitments should be structured around, at least, one of the five grand challenges defined by OGP:
- Improving Public Services—measures that address the full spectrum of citizen services (including health, education, criminal justice, water, electricity, telecommunications and any other relevant service areas) by fostering public service improvement or private sector innovation.
- Increasing Public Integrity—measures that address corruption and public ethics, access to information, campaign finance reform, and media and civil society freedom;
- More Effectively Managing Public Resources—measures that address budgets, procurement, natural resources and foreign assistance;
- Creating Safer Communities—measures that address public safety, the security sector, disaster and crisis response, and environmental threats;
- Increasing Corporate Accountability—measures that address corporate responsibility on issues such as the environment, anti-corruption, consumer protection, and community engagement.
As mentioned before, commitments should be developed through a consultative, multi-stakeholder process where government actively involves citizens and civil society. Developing commitments without input from citizens and civil society is contrary to the OGP Declaration of Principles.
What’s in a Commitment
Each commitment should have its own short paragraph identifying what the commitment is; how it will contribute to greater transparency, accountability and/or citizen engagement; who will be involved in implementing the commitment and; what the government hopes to accomplish by making this commitment.
There should also be a brief discussion of how specific commitments respond to public feedback generated through consultation. Where possible, commitments should also identify key implementation benchmarks and related timelines, indicating what will be accomplished during each year of implementation.
It is a good practice to keep commitments succinct. At a minimum SMART criteria should be followed when formulating OGP country commitments. SMART criteria require that each commitment should be:
- Specific. The commitment must clearly articulate what the government wants to accomplish by outlining concrete activities that will be implemented to achieve the country’s open government objectives.
- Measurable. Each commitment must be benchmarked through the use of measurable targets and milestones. Benchmarks – metrics by which action can be measured – are necessary for tracking progress and will feed into the Independent Reporting Mechanism assessment process. These metrics should be designed to measure the outputs generated by the commitments.
- Actionable. The commitment should explain how the open government outputs and goals are to be achieved. The commitment should include brief explanations of the actions, methodologies, tools and processes that will be used by the government to meet its goal.
- Relevant. The commitment must address open government issues rather than broader government reforms. The key aspects of open government include information transparency, public engagement/citizen participation, and accountability and the commitments formulated should reflect these principles.
- Time-bound. Commitments should not be open ended and should have deadlines to spur action. Every commitment should specify a realistic deadline by which progress towards implementation can be demonstrated.