Building on the Momentum: Co-creation Insights from Armenia
The creation of the fourth OGP action plan in Armenia coincided with a defining moment in the country. In April-May 2018, nationwide anti-government protests, referred to as the Velvet Revolution, led to drastic changes in the country’s political leadership, giving hope to Armenian people for a better future and more accountable government.
Development of the fourth action plan had already started before the political changes took place; however, the co-creation process gained full speed and renewed vigor in July 2018. Thanks to the support of donors, civil society launched a large scale awareness-raising and consultation. In particular, two CSOs, Freedom of Information Center of Armenia and Armavir Development Center, organized numerous meetings in the capital and the regions to reach out to wider civil society. This represents a significant improvement compared to the previous action plan cycles.
The co-creation process reflected renewed energy in the country brought by the change of government. The general belief in the political will to reform has generated much needed enthusiasm to contribute ideas on how to make the government more responsive to citizens’ needs. For the first time, face-to-face meetings were held with various civil society organizations, media, and citizens in all ten regions of Armenia, and also target groups of civil servants and youth. Opportunity was also provided for online submission of suggestions thus allowing any citizen to suggest their own ideas. Thematic groups involving representatives of government, CSOs, and experts have helped to dive deep into specific issues and develop consensus on the final solutions.
The public crowdsourcing exercise created unprecedented opportunities for wider parts of Armenian society to have a direct say in the formulation of the fourth OGP action plan. However, it also created challenges for the OGP Multi-Stakeholder Forum (MSF), which was in charge of collecting public input and turning them into specific, relevant and meaningful commitments. MSF had to deal with a large number of ideas and proposals, which were not always well developed or relevant to open government. Under the stress of time limitations, it was challenging to thoroughly discuss all the proposals and shape these ideas into OGP relevant commitments. Some proposals required iterative discussions over a longer period of time. This process showed that there is need for a more systematic approach in collecting, deliberating and prioritizing commitment proposals, and more importantly – to agree on the mechanism of final decision making.
Despite challenges, the genuine consultation, openness and collaborative approach of public officials paid off to make the action plan more ambitious. Unlike the previous three action plans, the government decided to commit to reforms involving legislative changes, which made it possible to put more ambition in the plan. For example, Armenia became one of the handful of countries in OGP who committed to create a publicly accessible register of beneficial ownership, tracking ultimate ownership of mining companies at the piloting stage. The Armenian government also pledged to build a platform for the electronic submission of petitions, which will enable citizens to gather support on issues and launch legislative initiatives. The commitment on education information allows parents to enlist their children in the schools of their preference without additional bureaucratic barriers and corruption risks, as well as report on encountered problems, which will be further tracked by the responsible ministry. Another important commitment is the public accessibility of a land cadaster, which sheds light on land ownership and use purposes, allowing to monitor transactions on land slots owned by communities or changes of land zones, and report on possible violations.
There is still much room to ensure effective co-creation processes in Armenia. What we can say based on the recent co-creation experience is that major improvements were made and solid ground was set for achieving further success in participatory decision-making and advancing more accountable government.