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Challenges, Priorities, and the Path Forward: Reflections from the OGP Civil Society Steering Committee Retreat

Manish Bapna|

The extraordinary events of 2016 call upon OGP to reinvigorate the global movement for open government and democratic engagement.  This was clearly evident last month when civil society members of the OGP Steering Committee met in Paris for our annual retreat.  We identified and discussed issues raised by the civil society community and how to concretely tackle them.  

Over the past year, we updated OGP’s strategic plan, informed by an in-depth mid-term review and consultations with many of you in the OGP community.  We shared this with you at the OGP Global Summit in December last year, where we also spent time collectively thinking about how to respond as a community to the strong headwinds we face: closing civic space, the rise of authoritarian governments and political transitions amongst OGP founding members.  

We recognize that many of you have asked to do more around the carrots and sticks that govern country participation.  We would also like to see greater ambition and better implementation of commitments at the country level. As a group, civil society members have taken these on as our top priorities. At the retreat, the discussion on these issues made for a rich and lively conversation. Here are a few key takeaways from the meeting:

First, we must improve the “rules of the game,” the framework that governs participation of governments and civil society in OGP. In some cases we recognize that the rules are too rigid and do not encourage a long-term reform agenda; in other cases they have loopholes that can weaken implementation. At the retreat, we examined challenges that have emerged from current OGP rules and procedures, including: the National Action Plan calendar and other procedural deadlines; self-assessment and IRM reports; eligibility criteria; co-creation guidelines and standards and the response policy. For each of these items, we identified issues that emerged in discussions with civil society and proposed actions that could be taken, weighing political feasibility, impact and timing.  Looking forward, civil society members will make specific proposals and discuss with our government counterparts on the Steering Committee. These issues will be on the agenda for the full Steering Committee in June and for final review and approval in September. In the meantime, we will be reaching out to you via OGP’s social media and other channels for more in-depth deliberation on these issues.

Second, we must do more to get ambition and implementation right at the country level. The Mid-Term Review highlighted that more needs to be done on ambition and implementation of NAP commitments overall. The Support Unit is developing a “menu of services” to support countries in designing and implementing OGP commitments. These services – ranging from knowledge provision, technical assistance and training to advocacy and even resource mobilization — will be delivered with the Steering Committee and strategic partners. The Support Unit and Steering Committee will market-test these services over the coming months to help ensure we have the right support to turn ambitious commitments to outcomes.

Third, we must build an even stronger, more cohesive open government movement if OGP is to be successful in the current challenging global context. We need to broaden and deepen the global OGP community. We brainstormed ways to strengthen the global movement towards openness and participation through an ambitious campaign that would focus on ways to rebuild public trust and ensure that citizens’ voices and rights are at the center of policymaking. We must ensure that governments serve their citizens and not the other way around, as President Obama said last December by video at the Paris Summit. OGP continues to work with reformers in civil society and government across OGP countries to ensure that the spirit of openness and dialogue is not only evident in select policy commitments, but permeates the culture of government and society.  As part of the strategic refresh, a renewed focus will be on positioning OGP as a powerful, positive global movement for openness and deeper democracy, and as a countervailing force against the rise of closed government. To achieve this, there will be a focus on reinvigorating high-level political leadership and strategic partnership across key global forums, as well as ensuring that OGP countries lead by example.

We discussed several other topics critical to OGP’s work:

  • how the successful OGP subnational pilot program can be scaled going forward, especially as the most participatory governance is often at the local level;

  • how the recently approved OGP’s open parliament and parliamentary engagement policy can get most traction;

  • how to ensure that OGP’s peer learning and exchange mechanisms better serve stakeholders, and finally,

  • how to further deepen channels of engagement between the OGP Steering Committee and the OGP community.

The Steering Committee and Support Unit are committed to taking concrete and measurable steps on all of these areas. While we finalize OGP’s strategic refresh and work plan for the coming years, we would like to continue working with all of you to ensure we can deliver better outcomes through citizen-centric governance and deeper channels of democratic engagement. The stakes are high – and to succeed, we will all need to work together.

 

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