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A Letter to the OGP Community

Una Carta a la Comunidad de OGP

Dear friends, colleagues and members of the greater OGP community,

I began serving as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Open Government Partnership on May 6. It’s been quite a wonderful whirlwind of activity — these first few weeks have already seen me through four continents, two OGP regional meetings (Africa and Americas) where I got the opportunity to meet several of you, the OGP Steering Committee Meeting in Cape Town, and the London Anticorruption Summit.  I wanted to catch my breath after all this, convey my warmest greetings to our OGP community, share some initial impressions, and update you on what we have in store for OGP over the coming months.

OGP AT AN INFLECTION POINT

My overarching impression is that OGP is at an inflection point.  The UN General Assembly in September this year will mark five years since the launch of OGP. There have been significant initial accomplishments: in just five years, 70 countries have joined OGP  (with several more in the process) alongside thousands of civil society organizations. Together they have generated thousands of commitments which are being independently assessed through OGP’s Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM), to ensure governments are living up to their commitments.

Yet the success of OGP over the next five years will be measured not by the number of countries or the number of commitments, but instead by whether OGP delivers transformative impact in the lives of citizens; whether OGP makes a real impact in tackling key challenges such as corruption, failures in service delivery, and the lack of transparency in budgeting, contracting or natural resources.  For this we will need to increase the ambition of OGP commitments: at present, IRM assesses only 12 percent of commitments as being potentially transformative.

STRATEGIC REFRESH AND MID-TERM REVIEW

In Cape Town, the OGP Steering Committee committed to carrying out a strategic refresh of OGP’s four-year strategy, heading into the OGP Global Summit in Paris in December 2016.  The objective of the strategic refresh will be to identify key strategic directions to raise the transformational impact of OGP on the ground.  The refresh will be underpinned by a mid-term review of our existing strategy.  We will be undertaking consultations with the OGP community on the refresh and mid-term strategy starting this summer.

THE PROMISE OF TACKLING TRANSFORMATIVE CHALLENGES THROUGH OGP

Through the London Anticorruption Summit and the two regional meetings, I am convinced that OGP can play a key role in tackling transformational challenges.  For instance, at the London Anticorruption Summit where I was invited to speak, OGP got positioned as the ambition, implementation and accountability arm – whereby groups of OGP countries can join together to raise their collective ambition in areas like beneficial ownership transparency or open contracting, and translate these into their National Action Plans (NAPs) for which they can be held accountable by civil society and by IRM reporting.  There were 40 countries, 11 heads of state and government, civil society, multilateral organizations and businesses at the Summit and the communique, signed by all of the governments that attended, had a strong reference to OGP.  This great visibility for OGP was rounded off with a nice paragraph in the Economist about how OGP can sustain the Summit’s commitments.   In addition, 11 governments used their individual country statements to explicitly state that they will be engaging with OGP in furthering their anti-corruption work. We need to together make sure that these are reflected in the development of future NAPs and call on your support to make sure we see the fruits of these initial efforts.

Similarly at the OGP Americas Regional Meeting in Uruguay, my remarks at the opening plenary highlighted the extent to which OGP can help tackle major societal problems affecting the region and sought to raise the ambition of country commitments.  In Tunisia, where I participated in a Ministerial retreat on Tunisia’s reform program, OGP emerged as a key platform for government to engage with youth to tackle their grievances and pain points.  In South Africa, Americas and the Middle East there is an emerging sense that youth engagement through OGP can also help tackle youth exclusion and grievances that constitute the root drivers of youth radicalization, crime and violence.

TACKLING PAIN POINTS AND HARNESSING OPPORTUNITIES

But to credibly tackle these major challenges, we will need to harness the collective energy of reformers in government and civil society leaders.  This in turn requires a genuine co-creation of actions between government and civil society.  Unfortunately we also see that the actual degree of co-creation is quite uneven and needs to be redressed.  And OGP as a partnership needs to take credible actions to protect and enhance civic space, as was done by the first application of OGP response policy, listing Azerbaijan as inactive during the Cape Town Steering Committee meeting.  The minutes of this meeting are available here but for me the most important thing was that throughout those discussions the Steering Committee was particularly clear about one thing – OGP is, and should always be, a space for reformers from government and civil society to join together to make a collective impact, with a robust and credible accountability mechanism.

In Cape Town and Montevideo, my meetings with government leaders and points of contacts (POCs), civil society leaders and IRM researchers highlighted opportunities and pain points that they face, that we must address going forward through the strategic refresh.  For instance, several countries face an implementation gap – as assessed by IRM – when transformative commitments are not completed, due to a range of capacity, resource and political obstacles.  To address these, we are already starting to mobilize a multi-donor trust fund that can provide resources to support capacity building, co-creation processes and implementation of NAPs.

My meetings with country delegations also revealed that the base of government as well as civil society ownership needs to be broadened to deliver the promised impact of OGP.  For instance, only 2.5% of OGP commitments are on health and education each.  Also, transparency is the dominant thrust (70%) of OGP commitments, and this has indeed been of foundational importance.  But looking to the next phase of OGP, it will be important to go beyond transparency to more integrally mobilize citizen feedback on service delivery – aggregated through CSOs, including through digital/mobile platforms, mediated by youth – and government responsiveness to that feedback. One example of where this is already working well comes from Maldonado, Uruguay, where citizens can report their grievances on an online platform and track government responsiveness.  The launch of OGP’s pilot program for subnational governments represents a tremendous promise for delivering tangible impact in the lives of citizens through this approach of government responsiveness to citizen feedback on service delivery, closing the feedback loop.

LOOKING FORWARD TO YOUR GUIDANCE AND CONTRIBUTIONS

As I look forward to the next few months, and OGP’s fourth Global Summit in Paris in December (please submit your proposals here!), I feel confident that we have some of the most dedicated and brilliant people working on open government across the OGP Partnership. I want to ensure we are able to collectively provide the support and infrastructure to realize the great potential open government has to bring about transformative change in the lives of citizens around the world. To translate the energy I have seen into results will require us to review and revisit our strategy and support mechanisms to make sure we are set up in the most effective way. We will keep the open government community informed about this and about specific opportunities to contribute to the consultations for the mid-term review and strategic refresh.  I am happy for your feedback and ideas about how we can enhance and strengthen the work that we are doing. Please consider for example, sending us blogs laying out your thoughts, experiences and ideas. As we’ve been saying for five years now “good ideas come from everywhere” – now, more than ever, we are counting on yours.

I am deeply indebted and grateful to the people who have shaped OGP so far – in particular my predecessor Linda Frey – and to this wide community of people with an interest in making governments better.

We need to intensify our collective efforts going forward, building upon what we have already created, to transform the OGP mechanisms we have built over the last five years into a movement for more open, effective and responsive governments, led by all of you. I thank you for this privilege to work with you in this exciting movement, and greatly look forward to collaborating with you and supporting you in your efforts!  Thank you.

Best regards,

Sanjay

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