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Four Ways the OGP Global Summit Can Build Back Better Democracy

Cuatro formas en que la Cumbre Mundial puede reconstruir mejores democracias

Joe Powell|

This year, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) turns 10 and the Republic of Korea will host the 2021 OGP Global Summit to mark the occasion from December 15-17, 2021. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic means the Summit will be almost entirely virtual, but it remains a crucial opportunity to reinforce the importance of open government in strengthening and renewing democracy, recovering from the pandemic, and countering the 15 year-trend of rising authoritarianism. This is reflected in OGP’s current global campaign, which started last year calling for an Open Response and Open Recovery to COVID-19 in areas like government procurement for health services which were found deficient in so many countries. OGP is now urging an Open Renewal that tackles the systematic weaknesses in our societies that, for too long, have held too many back.

Politically, the Summit comes at a vital time to showcase a strong global coalition for democracy and open government. In recent years, the rise of authoritarian leaders driving an illiberal democratic model rooted in corruption, disinformation, and restricting space for dissent and civil society has often gone unchecked. Recent events in Afghanistan are just the latest reminder of how fragile democratic gains can be, and how quickly they can be eroded. There have been some signs of a more proactive group of countries coming together, for example with stronger coordinated international action being taken on democratic backsliding from Belarus to Hong Kong, and an increasing number of global fora focused on democracy issues. For this effort to succeed it must be done with humility, with an equal focus on strengthening democracy at home as well as abroad. Countries need to show, through the power of example, how a more citizen-centred model of democracy can build trust in the democratic model and deliver better results. This is where the global community of reformers in OGP can play a vital role, and the OGP Global Summit can help in four significant ways. 

First, the Summit is an opportunity for OGP members to recommit to open government and democracy principles at the highest levels. Heads of State and Government will be invited to signal their political support as part of a virtual opening plenary that will include leaders from across the world. Leaders at the local government level will also have a chance to show their support. OGP’s efforts on this front will complement other multilateral events aimed at reinvigorating the coalition standing up for democracy, including the planned U.S. Summit for Democracy, and the G7’s Open Societies agenda. With the U.S. Summit planned the week before the OGP Global Summit, it represents a unique opportunity to rally support as part of a “Democracy Fortnight” of action. 

Second, the Summit is an opportunity to demonstrate what better democracy looks like for citizens through the 100 national and local OGP action plans due by the end of this year. Right now, civil society and reformers in government are co-creating the content of these plans to make them as relevant as possible to the current context. Open government can help in at least four dimensions: speeding up the recovery of both the health systems and the economy from the pandemic; addressing systemic inequalities in society, many of which have been deepened by COVID-19; tackling threats to democracy, such as eroding space for civil society, disinformation and digital surveillance; and building more participatory, open democratic models for the future. The OGP Co-Chair Global Call-to-Action articulates how open government policies can achieve these goals. It specifically calls for every OGP member to co-create ambitious commitments on anti-corruption, civic space and participation, and digital governance in their action plans. Again, the link to the U.S. Summit for Democracy will be key, with relevant commitments made across the two events being taken forward as part of OGP action plans in years to come. 

Third, the Summit will be an opportunity to reflect on 10 years of OGP. The aim is to tell the story of how reformers have used OGP to transform the way governments serve their citizens. There will be impact awards for some of the strongest reforms that have demonstrated clearly how democracy and open government delivers results for citizens. A series of video stories shown throughout the Summit will bring reforms like these to life. OGP will also publish a much anticipated report looking at ten years of lessons learned from the Partnership, as well as the findings from an independent evaluation of five countries’ journeys in OGP. 

Finally, there will be space for the growing open government community to share innovations, successes and failures. Although this will look different from traditional OGP summits, where thousands of people have gathered as part of an intensive programme, it is still central to OGP’s DNA that there is space for interaction and learning. For example, reformers inside and outside of government in Korea will be sharing their experience of citizen engagement strategies, including the Gwanghwamun 1st Street initiative.

Taking a summit online, of course, needs some different approaches. Our Summit webpage and a soon-to-be-launched Summit website will be continuously updated with guidance on how best to participate. There will also be a series of pre-Summit events in the next several months, such as an OGP Academy focused on the evidence for open government and a week dedicated to OGP’s Independent Reporting Mechanism

But one thing remains the same. The OGP Global Summit should be more than a place to exchange ideas; it should also prompt action. During the few months, whether you are a civil society leader or government reformer, there is an opportunity to use this year’s Summit to move the agenda forward in your country. This could take the form of finalising an ambitious new action plan, encouraging your Head of State or Government to record a video pledging their support to this agenda, or making an ambitious new commitment on a topic like civic space, anti-corruption or digital governance. 

There is a gathering momentum behind the conviction that our democracies need to improve in order to deliver for citizens, and show a more hopeful path away from closed government and authoritarian leaders. Our first decade together has demonstrated the remarkable progress to be made when reformers across our communities work in partnership. The OGP Global Summit is a key moment in the next leg of our journey together. 

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