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The Right Tools for the Right Job: How OGP can help win the fight for civic space

This paper is an OGP Support Unit/Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) collaboration authored by Tonusree Basu, OGP Thematic Partnerships Manager, and Denisse Miranda, IRM Research Manager.

Open Government Partnership (OGP) was founded on the idea that public policy reform is better when government officials engage with civil society actors. Because of this, OGP cannot succeed without the ability of people to freely organize, participate, and communicate about policy. This is referred to as “civic space.”

Yet, based on an analysis of documented events over the last five years, freedom of association, assembly, and expression are under threat in many OGP countries. The most common problems are:

  • attacks on journalists and human rights defenders,
  • failure to respect and protect public assemblies, and
  • barriers to independent and efficient operation of formal civil society organizations.

Is OGP focusing on the right problems and using the right tools? OGP action plans currently do not address the most pressing civic space problems in OGP countries. There is a significant number of commitments addressing formal operation of civil society organizations. The gap between the scale of problems and the number of commitments is widest in freedom of assembly (where there are two commitments) and the defense of human rights defenders and journalists.

OGP has tools to address the problems. In order to rise to the challenge, the OGP community can improve civic space with the following five action points:

  1. Do no harm: Action plan commitments should not introduce undue burdens and restrictions on civic space.
  2. Increase volume: OGP needs more civic space commitments.
  3. Improve scope: Commitments should cover the breadth of civic space problems, including emerging issues in the digital realm.
  4. Find the right fit: OGP needs more civic space commitments that match a country’s problems.
  5. Aim for net impact: OGP should measure its impact in part on whether it is contributing to more civic space in the country through collaborative dialogue.

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