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A global recipe book for stretch commitments on Opening Government

Maya Forstater|

There is a great deal of flexibility in defining the individual National Action Plans that are at the heart of the Open Government Partnership. The ‘rules of the game’  of the OGP are not to lay out a single formula for open government, but rather to support governments and civil society working together on their own recipes for domestic change. The OGP calls for action plans to be made up of SMART commitments (specific, measurable, actionable, relevant and timebound) which address the core themes of transparency, accountability and participation.

A review of the first 40 submitted Action Plans found that most had made a good effort towards meeting these criteria, but that there was room for improvement. However it is more difficult to assess whether these action plans truly represent ‘stretch goals’ or are simply a dish of leftovers – prior commitments and continuations of past successes served up again on a new plate.

In many countries local activists and reformers agree that the first action plan did not move far beyond existing comfort zones.  The majority of commitments focus on measures by the executive branch, rather than legislative and judicial reforms, and on innovations such as e-government rather than tackling structural constraints to accountability. Nevertheless these first action plans are a starting point from which to progress.  The founding countries are already in the process of developing their second action plans, and others will revisit their commitments in coming years.

Governments touch so many parts of life that there is also a correspondingly long and growing list of issues and actions for open government. Given limits to capacity, political will, and public interest, this demands hard choices about what to prioritise and how to sequence actions, so as to build up the momentum of change. Countries should create ‘stretch goals’, but not so many of them that they stretch the capacity for reform too thinly, resulting in purely aspirational declarations. Working out how to balance transparency with safeguarding national security, individual privacy and legitimate commercial secrecy demands both new international norms, and locally appropriate solutions.

With this in mind, in  2011 the  Transparency and Accountability Initiative put together the Guide to Opening Government, a first book of recipes for the Open Government Partnership.  Like a recipe book on a global scale, it collected recommendations from a range of different standards, sources and expert organisations working on different areas of opening government. The Guide presents these as a series of ‘illustrative commitments’ across different topic areas  and at different levels of ambition and comprehensiveness. In this way, it seeks to support individual committees and networks of government and civil society in establishing stretches that work for them whatever their starting points, and increasingly improving commitments over time.

This year we are updating the guide, again working with a network of expert organisations and building up the resource with more country examples, links to relevant standards and guidance, clearer links between the topic areas, and new topics.  One of the first new additions will be a section on Citizen Engagement – comments are invited on the draft here. The guide will continue to evolve in the spirit of  a global recipe book and will draw in case studies and examples, such as those developed by  The Princeton  Innovations for Successful Societies Program, the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT),  the Open Governance Initiative and others. If you would like to contribute to the guide either by offering feedback on particular topics, sharing case examples, translating it into other languages or promoting it to your networks, please do get in touch!

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