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Cracking Co-Creation: The Why, the How and the What

Cocreación: Por qué, cómo y qué

Experiences and Ideas from Europe

Peter Varga|

The Why

Co-creation of policy between government and civil society is the lifeblood of open government. It not only connects the vital organs of our body politic, but ensures its vigorous performance, circulates fresh ideas, and keeps democracy alive and kicking.

Indeed, when government, civil society and citizens identify challenges and design answers together, they respond better to societal needs, create longer-lasting solutions and boost trust in government. 

This year, OGP is looking forward to receiving 100 new OGP action plans (including from the new OGP Local members). And, as we mark 10 years since OGP’s founding, making sure the action plans are born out of an inclusive co-creation process and reflect societal needs is as crucial as ever.

The How

So what does a well-designed co-creation process look like?

The OGP Support Unit’s Europe Team organized a series of co-creation webinars over the past few months, precisely to get to the bottom of this question. Below are some lessons and tools to help our community of open government champions: 

The first webinar focused on taking co-creation online, providing digital tools for a robust co-creation process, even for times when stakeholders can’t meet face to face. Examples from Spain and the Netherlands showed that going digital can also mean going deeper and broader. Not to mention that digital co-creation can be cheaper; reach participants in farther locations, and make process tracking and reporting easier. Both civil society and government involved in these efforts reported that gathering online allowed for more focused and frequent discussions and reached beyond the “usual suspects”. This resulted in broader stakeholder participation, a wider buy-in from government agencies and overall improvements on co-creation processes from earlier years. 

Open gov champions across Europe participated in a civil society brainstorm to discuss reform ideas for upcoming OGP action plans, explore collective advocacy opportunities and share what kind of support they need.PHOTO: Credit: OGP

Still, it is perhaps even more important with digital co-creation events – as much as possible – to use a variety of methodologies that ensure continued engagement and help avoid “Zoom fatigue”. One should also not forget that an exclusively digital co-creation process can’t be fully inclusive due to the “digital divide” – the same way as a fully ‘offline’ event can’t either, as it often leaves out people who live outside capital or major cities, are shy to speak in public, or can’t attend physical meetings. A healthy mix of online and offline events remains the best way to enhance inclusion.

The second session focused on making sure governments respond to inputs solicited from the public – making sure consultations are an exercise in two-way communication and not just box-ticking. We heard great examples from Finland, the Slovak Republic and North Macedonia on how the government provides such so-called “reasoned response”: i.e. publishing an overview of civil society contributions and the reasoning behind their inclusion in (or omission from) the eventual OGP action plan. The Independent Reporting Mechanism of OGP provides further guidance on how to meet this crucial requirement in making a consultation process fully responsive – thereby making sure that whoever participates is listened to, even if not always necessarily agreed with.

Online repositories documenting action plan co-creation and implementation are a requirement as an OGP member.PHOTO: Credit: Ministry of Information Society and Administration, North Macedonia

The third webinar showcased best practices of online repositories, platforms that collect and document all steps related to OGP co-creation and implementation to ensure timely and accessible information is available to all actors interested. Colleagues from Romania, North Macedonia and Portugal shared their OGP platforms for documenting and tracking  a successful co-creation process, also required by IRM guidelines

The What

Having tackled the “how”, we were curious what reform ideas are high on the agenda for upcoming OGP action plans. A civil society brainstorm highlighted not only the key reform asks across the continent, but also the readiness of CSO partners to cooperate across sectors and borders, linking decision-makers with journalists, academia, citizens, and the private sector. The top areas of interest that arose from the conversation were:

  • Transparency of public procurement: Public spending is already notoriously prone to waste, fraud and corruption, so open procurement and contracting is even more important with vast post-pandemic stimulus budgets, such as the EU’s 600+ billion EUR Recovery and Resilience Facility. A coalition of OGP-partner CSOs recently launched Open Procurement EU, an EU-wide joint effort to open up public procurement.
  • Open data and high-value datasets: As countries slowly implement the EU’s Open Data Directive, it is important to make company ownership and procurement data available for free and in a machine-readable format. Learn more about OGP and our partners’ work on beneficial ownership transparency here.
  • Interest representation and lobbying: Countries like Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Latvia, Croatia, Estonia, Finland and even the EU itself are working on ensuring a more transparent and inclusive decision-making process. Read this recent blog on where their efforts stand.   
  • Enhanced citizen engagement: This is the cornerstone of any well-functioning democracy. Improving the overall enabling environment for civil society – namely an open and unencumbered civic space and a free and independent media – and mainstreaming participatory and deliberative frameworks in decision-making are key steps to attain this goal. 

As all the energy and ideas coming out of these four webinars attest, champions of open government across public administrations and civil society are busy collaborating and co-creating lasting reforms for an open renewal post-pandemic – answering challenges unprecedented in a generation with determination, innovation and yes, inclusive co-creation. We welcome all to find inspiration in their efforts and join their ranks to collectively build better societies and economies for all.

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