Brasilia in a nutshell

I thought it would be helpful to note down some thoughts on Brasilia's meeting fast, whilst the memory is still fresh...

The event: 

  • Over 1200 attendees, 60 journalists registered with great news/TV coverage with O'Reilly Media's Alex Howard interviewing participants throughout the 2 days and live blogging.
  • We had almost equal numbers government and civil society – the fact that both sides sit at the same table is one the greatest achievements of OGP to date. This is unique compared to other multi-lateral initiatives.
  • 55 countries around the world are now part of OGP or one quarter of the world’s people  (1.9 billion people)
  • Hugely powerful message that all countries can reform and innovate, from different starting points - we heard about reforms in Tunisia and Libya that were unthinkable 14 months ago. And that all countries have something to learn from one another - innovations come from Indonesia, Kenya, the Philippines, Brazil and all over the world. (Some of most powerful examples came from Tunisia and Yemen. "Open up" - Tunisian activists' slogan to open up their government - seems to have become the OGP's unofficial catchphrase.)
  • Great presentations from civil society throughout the event - Walid Al Saqaf from Yemenportal.net especially stood out
  • Two new co chairs - Warren Krafchik, head of the International Budget Partnership was nominated as civil society co-chair. The United Kingdom will shepherd the OGP into its next phase (implementing the commitments) and has taken over from the United States.
  • A second African country on the steering committee reinforces the continent’s presence – Tanzania.

The commitments: 

  • Tech and especially open data form a big part of the OGP commitments so far - we have a exciting task to hand to ensure that open data leads both to greater democratic empowerment as well as to more effective and inclusive government services
  • Countries and activists are using OGP as a political hook to turbo charge existing transparency standard-setting initiatives and get political leaders to sign up to them. For example the United States, Mexico, Ukraine, Colombia, and many others have signed up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) to make public billions of dollars in oil/gas revenues transparent via OGP. (US secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar made a great presentation on US revenue transparency on the second day.)
  • OGP provides a great opening to the acronym soup of standard-setting initiatives in the open government field: EITI, but also the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative (CoST), the Medicines Transparency Alliance (MeTA). CSOs can use OGP to drive political momentum behind these as well as innovate and design new global standards where needed. The Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT) is a good example in the budget transparency/participation field. There may be scope for similar initiatives related to open data and other sectors of the open government movement. OGP is a unique opportunity for civil society to boost existing standards as well as demand new/better standards. The Partnership has the potential to unite our field - this could be our ‘movement of movements’.
  • Now that we have commitments from 36 new countries (36 out of 43 September entrants delivered plans), the implementation stage begins. Over the next few months, monitoring OGP commitments as well as learning from experience on the ground will be key. There are great opportunities for harnessing the potential of new technologies here. For example: we will be exploring how to crowd-source citizens’ views of their governments’ OGP performance at scale as part of the OGP Independent Reporting Mechanism (the OGP's assessment mechanism). More on this soon.
  • Many plans submitted were drafts and can use strengthening. Civil society has an important role to play here – Mexican civil society helped to revamp their country plan after it was announced in September 2011. All OGP action plans are living documents, and should be further developed in the coming years.
  • Finally, while many action plans reference transparency-related commitments few really push the envelope on citizen engagement and participation at this stage (for example, opening up parliamentary hearings). This may be the next frontier for OGP in 2013.

Four challenges/opportunities going forward:

  • Leveraging policies for social change: we need to be more strategic about how OGP relates to the G20, to the UN, to other major international transparency initiatives, and use OGP to frame and launch policy innovations in the technology/open data/transparency field.
  • Learning: OGP is a treasure trove of experiences on the government and civil society sides, how can we tap into these, share them and learn from them?
  • Institutional growth: we need to support the institutions/processes and people that make OGP work. What we have here effectively is a start-up multi-lateral initiative.
  • Monitoring: the excitement of the first year is now over, OGP will need to be held account for the change it claims to achieve. We have an exciting challenge on our hands to develop the checks/balances/safeguards to ensure OGP remains true to what it was designed to be - a race to the top between reforming governments worldwide.
Authors: Martin Tisne
Filed Under: OGP News