From engagement to co-creation
Towards the end of 2013, the Christmas spirit was in the air, and we at the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) of the Republic of Georgia were preparing to put our work on hold until after the New Year. The plan unexpectedly changed when the first Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) Progress Report on Georgia’s first OGP National Action Plan (NAP) arrived. Despite the holiday spirit, the report was quite critical with several sobering recommendations for further improvement.
The findings of the report mainly focused on the commitments the government failed to fully implement. However, the biggest area earmarked for improvement was not NAP implementation, but rather the level of civil society engagement in the OGP process as a whole. It highlighted that civil society representatives did not have enough say in the drafting of the NAP since they could not monitor the action plan implementation along the way and, thus, did not have a stake in the process. Shortcomings observed were translated into one specific IRM recommendation: “Civil society and media should view the OGP as a platform to enhance public participation in decision making by taking up opportunities created by the government, participating in consultations, engaging the government in the development of the next action plan, and raising awareness about OGP”.
It was clear that we faced two main challenges: the failure to implement some commitments and limited civil society involvement in the process.
As a small team, what could we do to address the concerns raised by the IRM Progress Report? How could we enhance cooperation with civil society and at the same time, raise the ambition of future commitments? The answers to these questions serve as a foundation for most of Georgia’s subsequent success.
The answer is the Open Government Georgia Forum – established as a permanent dialogue mechanism for the government, civil society and international partners to sit together and co-create the open government agenda for the country. The forum’s Terms of Reference (TOR), which prescribes detailed functions and procedures related to the forum’s work, were prepared by the MOJ team and discussed and adopted by the government agencies and civil society responsible for the NAP. To resemble the OGP governance model, the forum has two chairs – one representing the government and the other representing civil society – both elected by the forum for the NAP implementation cycle. The forum ensures that government and civil society cooperation is comprehensive and not fragmented. The forum is also responsible for developing proposals on issues related to OGP, supporting the NAP elaboration process, planning and conducting public consultations, and monitoring and assessing the NAP implementation. The forum is accountable to the Anti-corruption Council of Georgia, and prepares activity reports twice a year. Calendars, as well as agenda and detailed minutes of the meetings, are available on the web.
The forum TOR was approved on December 26, 2013, at the Roundtable discussion where government, civil society and international partners were represented; the first meeting was planned for January 15, 2014. A new year and a new chapter in government-civil society cooperation was coming.
The forum became a cornerstone of trust between government and civil society. By using the forum platform, we have conducted public consultations across the country and translated civil society recommendations into commitments for the second NAP.
To develop the second NAP, the forum planned 19 meetings in 15 cities. Government and civil society representatives conducted the meetings, which gave the public a unique chance to engage in the issues from two different perspectives. In addition, the civil society members of the forum prepared recommendations for different governmental institutions. Most of their recommendations were accepted as OGP commitments by the government. For instance, Georgia is among few countries that proactively publishes surveillance data. We are also among a small number of countries that have the judiciary actively involved in OGP process. These two examples began as recommendations from civil society to the forum during the co-creation of the second NAP. As a result, the Forum has established a practice of co-creating open government reforms, which has continued during the development process of the third NAP.
This leads me to the most important question: what keeps the momentum? There are four main reasons:
Clearly prescribed procedures – allows all stakeholders involved to know the rules of engagement;
Records management – details are kept to help us see the big picture when trying to find new solutions;
Sharing responsibilities between the government and civil society creates a very special sense of ownership of the OGP reforms;
Involvement of the Forum in a full OGP life-cycle is the most important reason, as it ensures that government and civil society can work together on drafting new ideas, monitoring NAP implementation, tracking challenges, and so on.
It has been three years since the forum was officially launched. We have had challenges and will undoubtedly face more in the future, but the forum has successfully produced the Georgia’s third NAP, and continues to be at the heart of OGP Georgia’s processes.