The following presents a summary of findings from the paper “Review of Uptake of IRM Reports.” The full review is not available to the public as it contains direct quotes from interviewees and the IRM did not seek express permission to release those quotes.
The Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) was created to ensure the accountability and quality of each OGP participating country’s two-year national action plan. Each IRM review is carried out by an experienced national researcher who completes their review independent of government or civil society oversight. The report resulting from this review gives a thorough analysis of national consultation and commitment completion and provides recommendations for a country’s subsequent action plan.
A great idea in theory, but does the IRM really work?
The IRM hired an independent consultant to find out. The consultant, Suchi Pande, interviewed eight government points of contact (PoCs) currently working on their second action plan to see if and how PoCs use IRM reports. The IRM also wanted to know where there was room for improvement.
What we learned
Interviews showed that the PoCs found the IRM process helpful, and their responses towards the IRM report were, in general, positive.
Most of the PoCs interviewed confirmed the IRM report did influence the new action plan, with one PoC noting that the IRM report was “the base for the new action plan.” Others felt the IRM reports influenced the development of second national action plans in a “great manner,” (Romania) was considered a “starting point” (Estonia) for debates on the second action plan; influenced the development, design and scope of the plans “quite heavily,” (United Kingdom); and has made governments “more conscious of certain aspects of planning and process” (Philippines).
The IRM’s overall influence, however, can be described as “diffuse.” That means that, while some commitments in new action plans clearly reflect the IRM recommendations (either incorporating text or directly responding to the review), in a great majority of cases the IRM more likely influenced the process, form, and scope of national action plans, rather than implementation of particular commitments. Some PoCs found that the IRM report was the first time they understood the “rules of the game” for OGP.
Where we can improve
Length: Interviews showed that reports must be made more concise to encourage government officials to read their own country reports. Producing more concise summaries would also encourage governments to read other countries’ reports.
Improving recommendations: Implementing agencies, supporting institutions, and politicians need clearer, more actionable recommendations to chart a course for how to improve commitment implementation or adopt new commitments that match OGP values.
Review process: The executive summary could be made available during the government comment phase so as to encourage more officials to read the progress report.
Communications: OGP as a whole will need to better communicate the basics of OGP to other government agencies, entities, and departments beyond the primary PoCs. Also, it will need to better publicize the report to ensure use by civil society, activists, and academics interested in open government, transparency and accountability issues.
Report launch: Most PoCs interviewed did not organize formal launches or public releases of the IRM report. In most cases, the IRM researchers themselves organized press conferences or other events to discuss the report. Future report releases could be better timed to match the development of new action plans so that findings may be used to directly inform the process of developing the new action plans. (Note that the first batch of IRM reports for the founding countries came out only weeks before publication of the second action plans. The calendar has since been adjusted.)
The study suggests that the IRM has already proven to be an effective tool in helping governments with design and content of new action plans.
The next challenge for the IRM will be to ensure its reports are accessible to a larger OGP audience. By becoming easier to read and with a better launch strategy and dissemination plan, the IRM will be able to further support OGP’s mission of creating a bridge between government and civil society to use transparency and accountability to create open governments that further the well-being of people around the world.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.