Faces of Open Government – Fernando Straface
In this section of the OGP newsletter, we feature open government champions both from government and civil society, and ask them about their OGP experiences. Here is what they have to say:
How does open government make a difference in people’s lives?
Open government impacts on people’s lives, both directly by enabling citizens to access public information and oversee state actions and practices, as well as indirectly, by creating a climate of consultation and collaborative policy design conducive to more effective, prudent governance. Furthermore, and fundamentally, people benefit from improved public policies. These policies are rooted in consultation and shaped not by politicians in isolation but by private and civil society stakeholders and the public at large. This enhances citizens’ and other stakeholders’ sense of engagement and influence, shortens the distance between them and those running their country, and it means poor governance practices come into view and are less tenable, while conversely good governance gets noticed and promoted. In sum, open government improves the perceived – and actual – quality of governance and policymaking, benefiting people greatly.
Open government provides the mechanisms to improve governance, to govern more intelligently, by getting citizen input to create a public agenda that is truly co-designed. A key requirement and benefit of open government is collaboration between government and civil society. A public policy that is co-designed and co-implemented by these two actors will be more coherent, carry more legitimacy, and will be targeted at the specific needs of the people in the community. Civil society monitoring and evaluation of public policy also help tackle corruption, increase efficiency and bring focus to policy actions. In short, public involvement in the design of public policies enhances their potential to improve people´s lives.
The transparency and accountability that comes with open government also limits corruption. Openness is the best barrier to the misuse of power and the most effective good government enabler. Significantly reducing corruption allows for more and wiser allocation of investment in social areas translating into improved life conditions and helping to eradicate poverty.
How can the OGP leverage global civil society’s interests of opening up governments?
OGP has great potential to contribute to the objective of leveraging global civil society’s interests in opening up government. One way of enhancing the role of civil society would be to strengthen the rules for the creation of national action plans in order to ensure more weight for civil society in these processes.
In addition to the commitment of the individual countries to the principle of open government, another way to achieve this goal could be to provide the civil society organizations that build, monitor and evaluate the national action plans with specific funds and training workshops. Further support could also include civil society organizations related to the research and development of technological solutions and apps relating to open government issues. There is also a need to celebrate good partnerships between CSOs and governments, and to have a more long-term understanding of the nature of this relationship.
Finally, OGP can promote the generation of evidence regarding the benefits of open government. Building on the existing levels of good will and commitment regarding the importance of open government, the possibility to support these claims with empirical data would definitely be an important tool in order to leverage interest in rendering governments more open.
What will be your main priorities for the years to come as an OGP civil society Steering Committee member?
My priorities as an OGP civil society Steering Committee member will be threefold.
Firstly, I will promote the inclusion of the concept of open justice. I believe that the Judicial branch should be considered at the same level as the Executive and Legislative branches.
Secondly, I believe that the OGP should provide support to civil society organizations of countries that are not yet members, such as Ecuador, Venezuela and Cuba. I will encourage the priority of assisting organizations that are working in these countries despite a potentially unfavourable context with funds, workshops and exchanges in order to promote the goals and practices of open government. To give but one example, we at CIPPEC have received interns from Cuba, an experience that proved to be as valuable for them as it was for us in our efforts to understand the challenges that they are currently facing in their country of origin.
Finally, despite the fact that this is topic is already very advanced in OGP, I believe that there remains a lot to work still to do at the sub-national level. We still face challenges to the accessing of public information, the quality and deliverance of public services, the protection of users’ rights, the transparency of public administrations and the involvement and participation of citizenship in public policies, among other related issues.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the OGP civil society community?
Given that our lives are now empowered through new IT initiatives, we have the opportunity to give better support to governments seeking to commit to transparency through open data, so that such commitments can include a clear roadmap for their implementation. Similarly, the OGP civil society community has the opportunity to leverage the increased understanding of the role of technology in enhancing disclosure and public access to information, and to connect the best practices of global open data with transparency reforms and open government initiatives.
Fernando Straface is the co-founder and Executive Director of CIPPEC and OGP Civil Society Steering Committee Member.