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The Guide to Opening Government: An Enabling Environment for Civil Society Organizations

ICNL/OGP Companion Paper

In the Open Government Declaration, OGP countries pledge to protect civil society organizations (CSOs) in their pursuit to become more transparent, more accountable, and more responsive to their own citizens.1 CSOs are indispensable to fulfilling OGP’s vision of improved governance and improved quality of services. This chapter aims to support governments in their efforts to live up to their commitment to protect and enable CSOs.

“We commit to protecting the ability of not-for-profit and civil society organizations to operate in ways consistent with our commitment to freedom of expression, association, and opinion.”2

An enabling environment for CSOs protects and promotes the exercise of the freedom of association. Freedom of association is the cornerstone of an effective civil society as it allows people to come together to improve their lives, communities, and the world at large. It enables citizen participation and advocacy, including working collectively towards open and responsive governance. Basic protections for civil liberties, which include the freedom of association, are also part of the criteria for membership in the OGP.3

“We commit to creating mechanisms to enable greater collaboration between governments and civil society organizations and businesses.”  4

CSOs are important partners in the OGP, including in the design, implementation, and monitoring of national action plans; participation in multi-stakeholder mechanisms such as the Permanent Dialogue; and awareness-raising among citizens about the OGP and its achievements.

An enabling legal and policy environment for CSOs not only safeguards the freedom of association afforded to all individuals, it also promotes CSOs’ ability to maximize their impact. Through their work within and beyond the OGP, CSOs enhance transparency, promote citizen engagement, and hold governments accountable to their obligations. They contribute valuable expertise and channel citizen demands in topics of the OGP’s focus, such as elections, public services, and consumer protection.

The illustrative commitments in this chapter provide a range of steps for governments to make legal environments more conducive to the formation and operation of CSOs. As in all the chapters of the Open Government Guide, these steps are categorized as “initial,” “intermediate,” “advanced,” and “innovative,” creating a flexible framework for promoting an enabling environment for CSOs, based broadly on the current progress of most OGP member countries in this area.

1 See section “Support civic participation” of the Open Government Declaration,
3 “Open Government requires openness to citizen participation and engagement in policymaking and governance, including basic protections for civil liberties.” Open Government Partnership: Eligibility Criteria, at: how-it-works/eligibility-criteria


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