Achieving Results in Open and Transparent Government
Eighteen months on from the launch of the Open Government Partnership in New York in September 2011, there is growing attention to what has been achieved to date. In the recent OGP Steering Committee meeting in London, government and civil society members were unanimous in the view that the OGP must demonstrate results and impact to retain its momentum and wider credibility. This will be a major focus of the annual OGP conference in London on 31 October and 1 November, with an emphasis on showcasing innovations, highlighting results and sharing lessons.
Much has been achieved in eighteen months. Membership has grown from 8 founding governments to 58. Many action plan commitments have been realised for the majority of OGP member countries. The Independent Reporting Mechanism has been approved and launched. Lesson learning and sharing experience is moving ahead.
But more needs to be done.
There is scope to widen membership in Africa and Asia. The big strategic challenge is to deepen reform commitments among existing members and to ensure accountability for realising these commitments. Country action plans need to be more focused on concrete and achievable results against which progress can be measured. The new Independent Reporting Mechanism will provide an important means of assessing progress, beginning with eight steering committee members in the next few months, the results of which will be shared in October. Civil society organisations play a key role in supporting the development of action plans and realising their achievement. The OGP provides an important vehicle for creating this opportunity for CSOs to collaborating effectively and for ensuring accountability. CSOs also have an opportunity to promote good practice in openness and transparency in their own organisations by publishing information on finances, grant making and outcomes.
What would concrete results achieved through the OGP look like?
One would be the successful realisation of action plan commitments on the part of OGP members and for progress to be recognised and applauded. Similarly, the failure to realise action plan commitments would highlight the need for remedial actions. This is the main purpose of the Independent Reporting Mechanism.
Second, progress on all four main eligibility criteria for OGP members can be aggregated against agreed indicators. By October we will have evidence on how far there has been progress on the four main eligibility criteria: legislation and procedures governing right to information, fiscal transparency, asset disclosure and public participation in policy making. Some of these will be captured through newly published indices like the Open Budget Index. Others will be recorded through legislative reforms and progress on enactment of existing legislation, say on politicians and officials registering their assets or on public use of freedom of information legislation.
The third type of results are the trickiest to measure: What has been the impact of openness and transparency on the lives of ordinary citizens? In the two years since the OGP was launched it may be difficult to find many convincing examples of such impact, but it is important to make a start in collecting such evidence. Impact on the lives of citizens would be evident in improvements in the quality of service delivery, by making information on quality, access and complaint redressal public. A related example would be efficiency savings realised from publishing government contracts. Misallocation of public funds exposed through enhanced budget transparency is another. Action on corruption arising from bribes for services, misuse of public funds, or illegal procurement practices would all be significant results from these transparency reforms. A final example relates to jobs and prosperity, where the utilisation of government data in the public domain by the private sector to inform business investment decisions and create employment.
Generating convincing evidence on the impact of transparency reforms is critical to the longer-term success of the OGP. It is the ultimate test of whether lofty public ambitions announced in country action plans achieve real impacts to the benefit of citizens.