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Bringing open government home for citizens – developing public service commitments

Tim HughesandPaul Maassen|

One of the central themes of the Paris Summit was the need for OGP and open government to deliver real benefits to the lives of citizens.  Over the next five years, OGP’s success will not be measured by the number of new countries or commitments, but by the benefits it brings to people and communities.

One of the clearest routes to delivering improvements for people is through public services. As citizens, we rely on public services being accessible and high quality – to give us an education, keep us healthy, make our communities a safe place to be, and ensure our basic needs are met. Public services are critical to our wellbeing and life chances, and building stronger and more prosperous societies.Open government reforms have the potential to improve existing services, and unlock the ideas, knowledge and capacity for new solutions to societal challenges. The idea is simple – public services that are more responsive and accountable to us as citizens – and benefit from our insights, ideas, energy and scrutiny – will work better for us.

To date, too few OGP commitments address the day-to-day needs of citizens in key sectors of government, including public services. The last published IRM data shows that only 9.2% of commitments are on public services, with the majority of these being e-government reforms, and only 10% being judged as potentially transformative.

This is not to say that good quality public service commitments do not already exist – just that they are too few and far between. To pick one example, faced with needing to monitor the transactions of over 161,000 government units with fewer than 7,000 state auditors, the Philippines’ made a commitment in its first OGP National Action Plan to develop four pilot Citizen Participatory Audit projects for flood control, health facilities, solid waste management and building schools. This was followed up in the country’s second NAP, which included activities to institutionalise the Citizen Participatory Audit process and release findings from the four pilot projects.

The combination of importance to citizens lives, potential to make a significant impact, and room for improvement are why the OGP’s recent Strategic Refresh highlights public services as a key area for securing future commitments:

“In the next five years, more commitments need to focus on service delivery and issues covered in the Sustainable Development Goals more broadly (beyond SDG goal 16 – the ‘governance goal’), such as health, education, climate etc.” – OGP Strategic Refresh

Along with a larger quantity of public service commitments, we must also ensure a greater quality.  Experience and evidence has shown that reforms need to be designed carefully in order to have their intended impact and avoid unintended consequences. Public service commitments will need to:

  1. Solve a clear problem and have a robust theory of change – Starting with and working backwards from the problem to be tackled or outcome to be achieved is essential. We want to see commitments that have a clear and evidence based vision for how the reform will have impact.

  2. Move beyond transparency to citizen mobilisation and government responsiveness – Information is an important tool for making public services more responsive and accountable, but it is not enough. The best reforms have clear incentives and mechanisms for both citizens to mobilise and public officials to respond, and create spaces for dialogue.

  3. Link with accountability mechanisms inside government – One of the best incentives for citizens to get involved is seeing their participation have impact. The strongest open public service reforms and initiatives are often integrated into formal accountability mechanisms (e.g. audit, ombudsman and/or parliamentary institutions) that ensure change happens.

This is why we are launching a new guidance paper on how to develop robust and ambitious public service commitments. The paper sets out the case for making open public services reforms; guidelines on developing open public service commitments; and model open public service commitments, including recommendations, resources and case studies.

As thirty OGP countries embark on new NAPs this year, we invite you to use the guidance in your country to develop ambitious public service commitments and help make open government real for citizens. You can contact the OGP Support Unit for further assistance and ideas for country-specific activity.

 

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