Create Engaging Public Policies (SK0102)
Action Plan: Slovak Republic National Action Plan 2017-2019
Action Plan Cycle: 2017
Lead Institution: the ministers, the head of the Government Office, the heads of other central government bodies, in cooperation with the Plenipotentiary of the Government for the Development of Civil Society
Support Institution(s): NA
Policy AreasCapacity Building, E-Government, Fiscal Openness, Public Participation, Public Participation in Budget/Fiscal Policy, Regulatory Governance
Commitment No. 45: Create public policies identified in accordance with the recommended material "Guidelines for Engaging the Public in Public Policy Making" in cooperation with civil society representa-tives.
IRM Midterm Status Summary
THEME - Develop and evaluate policies in a participatory manner
Comm 43, 45, 47, 49, 63, 64
Language of the commitment as it appears in the action plan[Note : The Office of the Plenipotentiary, “Open Government Partnership National Action Plan of the Slovak Republic 2017 – 2019”, http://bit.ly/2QYIlHV ]:
Commitment 43: “Based on a broad dialogue between central government authorities and the civil society, identify public policies that will be created in a participative manner with civil society representatives.”
Commitment 45: “Create public policies identified in accordance with the recommended material "Guidelines for Engaging the Public in Public Policy Making" in cooperation with civil society representatives.”
Commitment 47: “Evaluate identified participatory processes of creation and implementation of public policies and disseminate examples of good practice based on this evaluation.”
Commitment 49: “Propose a recommendation of internal guidelines on the use of free on-line tools in participatory creation of public policies.”
Commitment 63: “Analyze and evaluate preliminary information and reports on public participation in the process of drafting and commenting on draft legislation.”
Commitment 64: “Analyze and evaluate the effectiveness of the Electronic Collective Petition.”
Start Date: Not specified
End Date: 30 June 2019
Context and Objectives
Slovakia ranks high on political participation, associational and organizational rights[Note : Freedom House, “Freedom in the World 2018: Slovakia”, http://bit.ly/2QeEKJM ]. Citizens are free to organize in political parties and movements. However, although everyone holds full political rights, some disadvantaged groups, for instance, of a Roma minority, do not live in conducive conditions to exercise these rights and benefit from them fully. Freedom of assembly is constitutionally guaranteed, and there are no restrictions for CSOs to operate. Nonetheless, the former Prime Minister Robert Fico expressed a hostile position towards them on occasions[Note : ČTK, “Fico chce prinútiť mimovládky, aby zverejnili financie zo zahraničia” (Fico wants to force NGOs to publish their finances from abroad), Sme.sk, http://bit.ly/2QEueLk (in Slovak). ]. Therefore, vocal support from the top political level for greater civil society engagement in policy making is not felt in day to day government operation.
Nonetheless, the government has formally committed to advancing participatory policy-making in its several official documents, national action plan included. Participatory policy-making has been a part of all action plans so far[Note : The Office of the Plenipotentiary, “Open Government Partnership National Action Plan of the Slovak Republic”, http://bit.ly/2DKiGPZ and The Office of the Plenipotentiary, “Open Government Partnership National Action Plan of the Slovak Republic 2015”, http://bit.ly/2RevqCc. ]. Commitments 43, 45 and 47 were already included in the first[Note : The Office of the Plenipotentiary, “Open Government Partnership National Action Plan of the Slovak Republic”, http://bit.ly/2DKiGPZ ] and second[Note : The Office of the Plenipotentiary, “Open Government Partnership National Action Plan of the Slovak Republic 2015”, http://bit.ly/2RevqCc] action plan.
Civic participation is one of the key OGP values and co-creation should be at the heart of OGP processes[Note : Open Government Partnership, “OGP Participation & Co-creation Standards”, http://bit.ly/2FFjwQl ]. Therefore, all commitments in this cluster, in particular commitments 43, 45 and 47 are relevant to OGP values and also specific enough to be assessed. If the process of developing policies in a participatory manner and a subsequent evaluation of the process is executed inclusively and professionally, it could have positive spillover on the entire public administration. Therefore, the potential impact of these commitments could be moderate.
Interviewees argued that several conditions must be met to achieve this. A CSO representative with extensive knowledge about participatory policy-making emphasized that processes must be transparent, and information has to be provided at all stages[Note : Interview with Karolína Miková (PDCS), 9 November 2018. See Section ‘VI. Methodology and sources for details. ]. She added that “participants should know why the final version of a policy document is written as it is”. She argued that while it is impossible to reflect preferences of all participants in the policies, they should be kept informed on how their feedback was incorporated. Another interviewee argued that participation should not be exclusive to selected policies only but needs to be embedded in institutional culture more broadly[Note : Interview with Ján Gondoľ (open education and science expert), 5 November 2018, See Section ‘VI. Methodology and sources for details. ]. He pointed to OGP commitments in open data that were developed against a participatory spirit. This example as well as others that interviewees mentioned suggest that there are significant differences in the extent and quality of their participatory processes between agencies[Note : Interview with Karolína Miková (PDCS), 9 November 2018. Interview with Marcel Zajac (Centre for Philanthropy), 5 November 2018. See Section ‘VI. Methodology and sources for details. ]. Therefore, the continuation of these commitments might be particularly beneficial for agencies that haven’t yet embraced participation in their day to day operation.
As for evaluating participatory processes, concerns and reservations about self-evaluation, which were raised in the previous IRM report[Note : Mária Žuffová, Open Government Partnership, “Slovakia Special Accountability Report 2014 - 2015”, http://bit.ly/2EzH4Ws], still prevailed. A CSO representative interviewed for this report argued that criteria for evaluating participatory policy-making are counterproductive as they make evaluation a very formalized process[Note : Interview with Karolína Miková (PDCS), 9 November 2018. See Section ‘VI. Methodology and sources for details. ]. Another CSO representative shared the view claiming that obligatory evaluation criteria add to an already existing bureaucratic burden that public servants have to face in their day to day work. Public servants might respond to this obligation by finding strategies how to circumvent it[Note : Interview with Marcel Zajac (Centre for Philanthropy), 5 November 2018. See Section ‘VI. Methodology and sources for details. ].
Commitment 49 to draw up internal guidelines with a view to the use of free online tools in participatory policy-making is very technical in nature and has unclear relevance for open government as such, and therefore is also coded for no potential impact. Though, it might widen the range of means for the public to participate, which might be in line with their everyday use of information and communication technologies. Nonetheless, many of these are commercial services, and thus, the government will not be able to guarantee full control and responsibility for the data.
The analysis of preliminary information and reports on public participation in the process of drafting and commenting on draft legislation (commitment 63) is important, as it is crucial to know to what extent the public can participate and participates in legislative processes. Based on the findings of such analysis, improvements could be proposed and implemented.
Commitment 64 to analyze the effectiveness of collective e-petitions is important given that not a single e-petition was created since its launch on the national e-government portal, http://www.slovensko.sk, on 31 December 2015[Note : Collective e-petitions at Slovensko.sk, https://open.slovensko.sk/hromadneziadosti (in Slovak). ]. It is crucial to understand why the platform hasn’t been successful and what can be done to encourage its take-up. The previous IRM report[Note : Mária Žuffová, Open Government Partnership, “Slovakia Special Accountability Report 2014 - 2015”, http://bit.ly/2EzH4Ws] concluded that non-use of e-petitions either suggests an absence of demand for such a platform due to the saturation of demand by preexisting platforms, or lack of awareness or poor design of the platform. Stakeholders recommended previously reconsidering thresholds and reducing significantly the number of signatures required for the government to consider an e-petition[Note : At the moment, the threshold is 15 000 signatures. ].
- Embed participation in institutional culture across different sectors
The differences in extent and quality of participatory processes between public agencies are significant. While some agencies have more experience with participatory processes, others do not. The differences also exist within public agencies. A CSO representative provided an example of both good and bad practices within the same agency[Note : Interview with Karolína Miková (PDCS), 9 November 2018. See Section ‘VI. Methodology and sources for details. As a good practice example, she stated the National priorities for the Agenda 2030, which resulted from wide participatory processes. As a bad practice example, she mentioned the action plan for transformation of the Horná Nitra region mostly because of the closed nature of processes and a lack of basic information. ]. During the action plan development, CSO representatives expressed their concerns that engaging CSOs into policy-making processes is often very formal and CSO representatives are often presented with a finished and already decided thing[Note : The Office of the Plenipotentiary, „Správa z regionálnych workshopov k tvorbe Akčného plánu Iniciatívy pre otvorené vládnutie na roky 2016 – 2019“ (Report from regional workshops on the development of the OGP Action plan 2016-2019), http://bit.ly/2zslNsy (report in Slovak).]. They also complained that working groups or commissions are over-represented by public servants. All these points, added up, require that the government has a more holistic approach to participation. It should not be exclusive to the development of policies that were selected as a part of OGP commitments and should include regular face-to-face meetings with stakeholders, including CSOs. A commitment to civic engagement should be embedded in institutional culture and day to day operation of public agencies and include local as well as national government. Translated into action points, this means that public agencies should inform about their planned activities pro-actively in an open and transparent way using various communication channels to ensure that the message reaches all relevant audiences. They should do so at the earliest stages, not when a draft law or decision is already written, but at the preliminary/green paper stage, where a problem or proposal is identified, the context described, and policy scenarios outlined. Stakeholders should be engaged at this stage, and at each subsequent stage, including when a Regulatory Impact Assessment has been published (ideally, RIA would be produced at each stage).
- Make CSOs’ engagement easier
Already the previous IRM report[Note : Mária Žuffová, Open Government Partnership, “Slovakia Special Accountability Report 2014 - 2015”, http://bit.ly/2EzH4Ws] emphasized that providing different resources for CSOs to participate is a precondition for ensuring inclusive processes. A CSO representative interviewed for this report mentioned that their capacities are strained. However, that said, her organization always joins discussions regarding themes that are crucial for its work, such as FOI legislation. She added that the government should pro-actively explore what would help different CSOs to engage[Note : Interview with Veronika Prachárová (Slovak Governance Institute), 16 November 2018.]. The propositions could vary. The government should introduce a database of interested stakeholders, such as CSOs, who want to be notified of the launch of each process likely to lead to decisions or laws in their area of focus or interest. The information should also be publicly available for those who would prefer not to register. An opportunity to join meetings and discussion via Skype could attract more regional CSOs which do not have financial and time resources to travel through Slovakia for an hour meeting in the capital city etc. In addition, the ministries could produce green papers, explanatory notes or regulatory impact assessments, which will provide condensed key information, as CSO representatives are often time constrained to read full documents. Last but not least, the government could raise awareness of funding opportunities for CSOs.
- Include an external element in the evaluation of participatory policy making
As stakeholders repeatedly emphasized for this but also previous IRM report, self-evaluation of participatory processes might be insufficient. A CSO representative also argued that criteria for evaluation of participatory processes also create a false impression that “the government has been participating from dawn to dusk while it is not true”. The setup of the evaluation to include the Ministry of Justice and Deputy Prime Minister’s office is positive, so that the evaluation is not carried out by the individual ministry or agency that ran the participatory process. To further strengthen the independence and impartiality of the evaluation, the inclusion of independent external assessor or reviewer is recommended, and the inclusion in the assessment of feedback, for instance in survey format, of the stakeholders who are engaged in the given subject area as to their assessment of the participatory process. An external element is needed for an objective assessment.