Getting to Know the IRM: A Jamboree Experience
For those of us within the Open Government Partnership’s Support Unit, the different moving parts that make up OGP can seem complex. When I arrived at the Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) Jamboree in Madrid, I was unsure of what to expect. I knew the IRM’s role inside of OGP (understanding their mission of “independent reporting”) and was familiar with the products they produce. Outside of those basics, though, the IRM was shrouded in mystery.
For good reason: the IRM maintains its independence as a matter of utmost importance. It can only work as a separate entity, independent from managers within OGP itself, as well as the governments its researchers evaluate. Maintaining this integrity and autonomy keeps the IRM functional as a review mechanism. IRM research and reporting tells us which countries are eligible to join. It also tells us how countries are progressing with OGP commitments, and how they are following – or not following – the OGP process. IRM research informs members of the Civil Society Engagement and Government Support and Exchange teams how to proceed with their work, and provides the communications team with data and reporting for media outreach and social engagement. The work of the IRM is meant to be informative and illustrative – not prescriptive. Think of the IRM as our in-house investigative journalists.
Over the three days we spent in Madrid, going in and out of meetings with thirty-nine IRM researchers from places as far-flung as South Africa, Australia and Peru, we spent a lot of time hunkered down in cavernous meeting rooms and sharing tapas over expansive dinner tables. Time spent with the researchers in both professional and relaxed settings shed a light on the valuable work that the IRM does, and the incredible tasks these researchers accomplish. Producing progress and end-of-term reports takes a lot of time, energy, and knowledge. Researchers came from over 30 countries to receive training from IRM staff on producing these reports, and attended sessions on timelines and methodology. These open and productive sessions gave researchers the chance to ask IRM staff key questions.
The committee that leads the IRM – the International Experts Panel (IEP) – was meeting at the same time as the Jamboree. This gave them the unique opportunity to work with the researchers, sharing their knowledge and experience with the group. Hazel Feigenblatt, a former journalist and current IEP member, led several sessions on communications, writing and the media – culminating in a mock press conference for IRM researchers.
OGP staff weren’t the only ones teaching. Specialists on beneficial ownership, open contracting, budget transparency, and other open government-related topics came to speak on their experiences and share their expertise in thematic sessions. Researchers with an interest in a particular theme – or for whom those themes were relevant – attended these sessions in order to gain expert knowledge in the field.
The majority of the learning, however, came from researcher-to-researcher interaction. Researchers from Spain, Georgia, and Panama gave a series of presentations on research methods and tools, highlighting ways that research can be done more effectively. Representatives from Tunisia, Greece and Guatemala gave detailed presentations on IRM launch events in their countries, detailing the steps they took to ensure media attention and attendance at their events. During coffee breaks and meals, they spoke to one another about the issues they face and the work that they’re doing at home, bringing the whole group closer together.
Listening to researchers from all over the globe relating to one other was yet another reminder of what OGP is capable of. The peer learning experience is a critical element of OGP’s mission and work, and events like the Jamboree can help further that mission and work. The Jamboree may have ended on June 27th, but the lessons learned and relationships forged will strengthen the OGP community for years to come.