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Exploring the role for subnational governments in OGP

Kitty von Bertele|

On the second day of the OGP Summit in Mexico City I sat on the floor, in the stately ‘town hall’, with a group of people who wanted to talk about how OGP could work with subnational governments, as we have done with national governments over the last four years. We discussed how we are planning to do this and got insight and ideas from the bright and creative people who are typical of the open government community. It was a great session and I think we could have all stayed there for much longer than we were able to because it felt relevant, exciting and collaborative. This followed a main stage session the previous day with Mayors and local leaders talking about their experience of open government, which in turn built on the OGP Steering Committee’s leadership and agreement to develop a subnational government pilot programme. In those few days of the Summit we solidified commitment and tapped into expertise to help OGP with this new programme of work.

Others have already written about why OGP wants to work with subnational governments but the more people we talk to, the more convinced we become that this is an exciting and important opportunity. I was recently thinking about new and interesting open data commitments that a national government could make and found I was turning to examples in cities and states, rather than in other national governments. It is particularly encouraging that national governments are really championing more subnational involvement in OGP and seeing the opportunity for access to other ideas and experiences.

During the main stage session at the Summit we heard from the Mayors of Mexico City, Pretoria, Tirana, the Deputy Mayor of Paris and the former Mayor of Washington D.C. as well as civil society leaders from the Philippines and Mexico. So many people told me how interesting they had found this discussion because it made the relevance of subnational government to OGP (and vice versa) much clearer. In Pretoria the free wifi scheme means citizens are not only being asked to participate, but are being equipped to do so as well. In Paris a commitment to allocate five percent of its capital fund to the participatory budget process exists because the Mayor believes that for citizens to build the future of the city, they need to be part of the decision making process. Subnational governments have an immediate need and compelling incentive to use all the tools at their disposal to build trust with their citizens and provide the strongest possible services. Mexico City serves 17 million people a day, which is a significant burden on the city’s infrastructure. The Mayor is a prominent advocate of the use of open data and innovation to address some of these challenges. Tirana had a challenge to overcome its communist past and encourage people to see the government as an ally and the city as something worth investing in, which the Mayor is achieving by being open with the public, approaching them with ‘honest resignation’ and inviting them to help develop solutions. As with OGP at a national level, if we can demonstrate some of these experiments and successes and generate demand for better public services and greater openness, we might see subnational governments having a significant impact in restoring what Anthony Williams, the former Mayor of Washington D.C., called the shared responsibility of the public realm.

Just some of the questions we’re asking, and being asked, are: how can we make sure we’re complementing, rather than duplicating, efforts and networks that already exist for subnational governments; how can we make sure we’re not treating subnational governments as a homogeneous group but recognising that we should work with states, regions, cities and other forms of government, and make sure we understand the perspective of different economic and development backgrounds; how do we access and engage active civil society organisations working at a subnational level?

At the Summit I had enough conversations and heard enough discussion to convince me that the appetite is there for us to pursue this work but we also want to make sure that people who care about this, who know about it, or have tried things like this before have the opportunity to be a part of it. We want OGP to be a space for subnational governments to share ideas and experience. Political leaders will work with civil society organisations and reformers in subnational governments to make commitments to open government that OGP will hold them to account for. Neither the Steering Committee nor the Support Unit think we have all the answers and nor do we want to impose something on a community who won’t find it useful. The draft concept note that was agreed upon by the Steering Committee is available in the background meeting documents from October 2015 and we will be making minor updates to it following feedback at the Summit. More information will follow on the OGP website about the timeline for the pilot programme and what you can do to be part of it. In the meantime I am very happy to discuss this further or answer any questions, so please be in touch if you want to help us develop this 

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