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Implementing SDG16+ Through the Open Government Partnership

Joe Powell|

For more on OGP’s work with the Sustainable Development Goals, read our publication of the same name, Implementing SDG16+ Through the Open Government Partnership, here.

The challenge of building peaceful, just and inclusive societies is at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These global goals, agreed at the United Nations by all countries in 2015, are designed to provide a roadmap for a better world by 2030. The Open Government Partnership (OGP) can be a vital partner to achieve these goals. 

Four years since the SDGs were agreed, there is widespread concern that implementation is so badly off-track for most targets that a dramatic shift in action will be needed to make significant progress by 2030. It is vital that 2019 is a year where people are inspired to take more ambitious action and commit to making the 2020s a decade of delivery. 

Open government can be a strategic tool to help with implementation across the 17 SDGs. Government is better when it is transparent about its activities and with its data, when it proactively encourages public participation, when it is responsive to citizen demands, and when it is prepared to be held accountable for successes and failures. Within OGP, countries are experimenting with open government innovations that could help accelerate progress on the global goals. These include a range of innovations that give citizens a greater say over how they are governed: whether it be how public services in water, health and education are provided, where and how infrastructure projects are built, or how budgets are allocated. 

Since OGP was founded in 2011, there have been almost 4,000 of these open government commitments from the 79 member countries, and an increasing number of local government participants. This briefing paper looks at some of the most relevant examples. It spotlights innovations across Goal 16+, the cluster of SDG targets that seek to achieve peaceful, just and inclusive societies, and accountable institutions. These are by no means an exhaustive list of examples of relevant open government reforms happening in OGP, but they are designed to showcase the potential of countries using their membership to more proactively link their commitments at the global level to national implementation. It includes work in South Africa to make budgetary information more accessible and participatory, in Colombia to make the legal system more accessible to citizens, in Sri Lanka to expand on access to information and in the UK to reduce opportunities for money laundering and corruption. 

OGP’s mechanism is well suited to be the link between global commitments and national implementation because of its unique design elements. OGP members are required to submit concrete commitments every two years that are co-created between government reformers and civil society organizations. The discussions take place in an OGP forum, typically co-chaired by a government minister and a civil society leader, and are designed to be open to inputs from citizens as well as organized non-governmental organizations. Every year, an independent assessment of progress is conducted by OGP’s Independent Reporting Mechanism. These reports are public, and provide a vital learning and accountability tool that ensures progress is tracked and OGP is not a talking shop. 

The examples in this briefing paper show that even on the toughest SDG targets, progress is possible and that innovations are taking place in OGP members that can be adapted and adopted by other countries. However, these examples are too few and far between. Strengthening the link between OGP and the SDGs could be a helpful way to accelerate the use of open government as a tool to deliver on priorities for governments and citizens at two levels. 

First, OGP members should consider their biannual open government action plans as tools for committing to reforms that help the country meet their SDG targets. This was first outlined in the 2015 OGP Declaration on the SDGs that was agreed at the Mexico Global Summit, and is already underway in some OGP countries. In places where the link has been established governments could include it in their Voluntary National Review which for example the UK has done in 2019, and ensure that the relevant Ministry leading on SDG coordination has a seat at the table in their OGP forum. There may also be opportunities to make progress on open data and data management reforms that help SDG monitoring, so that better decisions can be made on where to allocate resources to meet the goals. The OGP forum can also bring in more diverse civil society voices working across policy areas reflected in the SDGs. 

Second, OGP can incubate new open government norms that will help deliver progress on the SDGs. For example, on anti-corruption over 70 OGP members have commitments on open contracting and public procurement, helping governments save money, reducing state capture by well connected elites and increasing access to government business for small and medium owned enterprises. Open contracting is an example of a new open government norm that could help countries improve on basic service delivery for health, education and water provision, supporting progress across many of the SDGs if well implemented. Similar new norms are emerging on open budgets, access to information, ending anonymous companies and giving citizen’s options to provide feedback on public services. 

This briefing paper shows that it is possible to achieve results, even in difficult circumstances and on challenging goals, by working together with reformers in and out of government, and having a strong focus on accountability. If the 2020s are really to be a decade of delivery for the SDGs, a stronger partnership with the open government community will be essential. OGP’s focus on national implementation, cross-country learning, and incubating new policy norms that could help make progress across the SDGs means there is potential for far more strategic collaboration in future.

Read the full publication here.

Photo Credit: Beyond Access, Masiphumelele Library, South Africa

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