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How Open Government Helps Countries Withstand COVID-19

IRM Staff|

COVID-19 disrupted the globe in unprecedented ways, forcing people and organizations in all corners of the world to adjust to a new reality. OGP was no exception. Of the 63 countries implementing OGP action plans in 2020, 19 extended their implementation periods and 15 of 41 expected new action plans  were submitted. Nevertheless, the platforms, systems and partnerships created through OGP action plans before the pandemic are demonstrating to be valuable in emergency situations.

COVID-19’s Impact on the Implementation of OGP Action Plans

According to IRM findings from 2018-2020 Transitional Results Reports reviewed so far, commitment implementation faced challenges. The completion rate so far of 61 percent is tending lower than the past two action plan cycles. Commitment activities were either modified, postponed, or canceled. Some governments had to reallocate human and financial resources to respond to the immediate needs caused by the pandemic, this was the case in 29 percent of countries reviewed for this blog. 

For example, in Serbia, reallocating human and financial resources delayed or ended several commitment activities, including some that promoted collaboration between local governments and civil society. In some cases, disruption and delays occurred due to travel and in-person gathering restrictions. This was the case in Tunisia, which had commitment activities requiring cross-country travel and in-person consultations that could not be completed . Engagement during implementation was also affected; in 54 percent of cases reviewed, participation shifted from in person to online. 

The pandemic’s impact was not equal across OGP members. Implementation of action plans tended to be less affected in countries with a high Human Development Index, such as Australia and France. These countries were more likely to have the infrastructure, technical expertise, and financial support to quickly adapt to the pandemic. A particularly important factor among these countries was a robust digital governance infrastructure which, like in Korea and Estonia, allowed them to continue business virtually with little disruption. On the other hand, the countries most affected tended to lack these characteristics. That was the case of North Macedonia. Its national assembly was dissolved for seven months, and without procedural rules for remote work, progress on parliamentary commitments stalled. Nevertheless, the national assembly was eventually able to work remotely and North Macedonia’s OGP forum was able to navigate through the pandemic, in part by establishing its own virtual capabilities.

Open government tools for pandemic-resilience 

Despite the many calamities of the pandemic, initiatives advanced through OGP action plans helped lay foundations to effectively respond to the pandemic. Estonia, for instance, used its national open data portal, developed as part of their 2014-16 OGP action plan, to create a dashboard with detailed COVID-19 data disaggregated by demographics and updated daily. This included machine-readable information on the number of tests administered and their results, hospitalizations, people in intensive care, and deaths. Open government reforms also helped governments deal with the fallout of the pandemic. 

Armenia’s OGP action plan commitments to develop platforms for education and health enabled the public to minimize face-to-face interaction while nonetheless making informed decisions about their education and health. Furthermore, the health platform listed information on medical institutions and their services, as well as providing a system for admitting patients to their preferred institutions. Meanwhile, in Croatia, the e-Citizen system, a commitment in their 2018-20 action plan, enabled the ePass (e-Propusnica), allowing individuals with special circumstances (like needing in-person public services) to request exceptions to move around the country amid lockdowns. While these reforms differ, they all allowed governments to strategically adjust to an unanticipated crisis.

Platforms developed through OGP action plans have also been used to invite public monitoring of governments’ handling of the pandemic. In Nigeria, the NOCOPO platform includes contracts awarded in response to the pandemic. Both Ukraine and Colombia require all such contracts to be published in full on their respective platforms, Prozorro and SECOP. Colombian civil society, in particular, has been keen to investigate government use of resources to tackle the pandemic and has monitored contracts for signs of irregularities, raising red flags through investigative journalism and denouncing potential cases of corruption. 

From response to recovery 

Open government reforms have helped countries withstand COVID-19 and become more resilient. Other countries are noting the promise of open government to increase transparency and accountability in their efforts against COVID-19. Seven of the 15 action plans created in 2020 include open response/open recovery commitments. In its 2020–2022 action plan, Indonesia includes a commitment on public access to COVID-19 spending information. Similarly, Portugal’s 2021–2023 action plan includes a commitment to publish all information on the implementation of its EU-funded Recovery and Resilience Plan, including details on financing, beneficiaries, and suppliers. Much like what has happened in Colombia, these commitments aim to allow the public to scrutinize pandemic-related spending and shine light on irregularities. Including more commitments of this sort in action plans can help other countries respond effectively to the challenges of the pandemic.

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