Champions for Champions: Behind the scenes of making open government work

Reflections from the OGP Asia Pacific Regional Meeting 2018, Seoul, South Korea

I arrived at the Westin Chosun Hotel in Seoul, South Korea, the official venue of the 2018 OGP Asia-Pacific Regional Meeting on November 4, a day before the event began. I was able to observe the movements of the event organizers – how they were able to transform hotel walkways into impressive and sleek exhibit areas and empty rooms into session venues conducive to host hundreds of people, all in a matter of hours.

As expected, in the next two official meeting days, the efficiency of the South Koreans and the OGP Support Unit in organizing the high-level event paid off, allowing the participants to enjoy a good mix of formal and informal interactions throughout the sessions and breaks. The event served as an excellent venue for leaders from government and non-government sectors to share lived experiences, showcase innovations and best practices, and promote peer-learning around open government implementation in the region.

I was able to actively participate and listen to the discussions in three sessions: the POC Day, the Ministerial Roundtable Discussion on Open Government, and the Philippine Government-led session #CivicTechAsia: Using Civic Technologies for Governance Innovation. Similar to the other sessions, these three OGP peer-learning activities sought to answer one encompassing question: What makes open government work?

From commitment to action

There are many possible answers to this question. Critical factors often cited are political buy-in and high-level commitment from government. For any open government reform to succeed, we need a committed high-level champion. But what else makes open government work? Or better yet, what makes the open government champions effective in their work? How do you translate high-level pronouncements to more solid outputs?

When it comes to the nitty-gritty of operationalizing and ensuring that open government mechanisms are in place, the value and critical role of the people behind the scenes and OGP champions should be recognized and supported. Empowering them with the right information and equipping them with the right tools and resources are also important.

Individuals make open government work

During Point of Contact and Civil Society Day, Paul Maassen, OGP Chief of Country Support, highlighted the critical role of POCs and individual commitments in making open government work and in translating aspirations to concrete action:

"History is not only made by the powerful men and women at the top – perhaps even more it is made by adding up the individual actions of millions of people that collectively move us in a better direction, working hard to build and protect both the body and soul of democracy."

As an OGP advocate for more than five years now, I take Paul’s words to heart.

This also relates to what Secretary Benjamin Diokno, the Lead OGP Minister of the Philippines shared during the Ministerial Roundtable Discussion of the event: “Committing to openness is one thing, but following through beyond lip service is what matters.”

Because yes, good legwork is key to effectively supporting high-level commitment and political will. All well-run initiatives and offices are fueled by the doctrine of completed staff work. In OGP, POCs are the people behind the completed staff work, ensuring that open government asks (no matter how big or small) are delivered on time and of quality.  

In so doing and as we try to balance the interests of various open government actors, there can be a lot of challenges and frustrations. But as we are able to facilitate the delivery of the tasks, it also comes with a great sense of pride and fulfilment. And there are already so many lessons to take stock of. This is why having the POC Day is always an important part of all international OGP events. I always find much relief to be in a safe space together with fellow POCs who share the same sentiments and provide useful advice that guides what I do in supporting our OGP work and key stakeholders in the Philippines.

#OGPAsiaPac’s POC Day provided a new design, offering unique and enlightening experience through a collaborative discussion with selected civil society representatives. This POC Day structure gave us better and broader perspectives about the roles of other stakeholders who are working both at the frontlines and behind the scenes of the vast universe of public sector reform work.

Champions in their own right

Through its theme “Promoting Democracy, Improving Governance, Renewing Trust” and engaging and interactive sessions, the 2018 OGP Asia-Pacific Regional Meeting, laid down the value proposition for engaging citizens in governance. OGP leaders are often in the spotlight for the success of these kinds of events, and while they are critical champions of reforms, it is also important to make sure that the people behind the scenes are also empowered with the right information, tools and resources. Because as it is, they are champions in their own right.

Authors: Marianne Fabian
Filed Under: Champions