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What’s in a Name? A comparison of ‘open government’ definitions across seven OGP members

No longer restricted to access to information laws and accountability measures, “open government” is now associated with a broad range of goals and functions, including public participation, open data, the improvement of public services and government efficiency. The 59 country strong Open Government Partnership (OGP) suggests that consensus on the value of open government is emerging amongst public officials. Similarly, academics have shown a renewed interest in open government as they discuss, debate and critique the meaning and role of open government reforms today. Yet, despite the diverse aims and tools characterizing contemporary open government, public officials and academics typically approach the subject as a cohesive unit of analysis, making sweeping—and generally nonempirical—claims about its implications, without accounting for the homegrown flavours that may characterize open government in practice. Simply put, the practice and study of contemporary open government suffers a lack of definitional clarity: what exactly is open government today, and how does it vary across governments? In response to these questions, this paper analyses the content of open government policy documents in seven OGP member states (Azerbaijan, Brazil, Canada, the Netherlands, Kenya, United Kingdom, and the United States), providing the first systematic, empirically-grounded multicountry comparison of contemporary open government. The paper suggests where the term departs from and retains its original meaning, and how its definition varies across different governments.

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