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Important updates you might have missed: New rules and guidance for the OGP community

Alonso Cerdan|

Over the last few years, the Support Unit has tried to provide as much information as possible on OGP Steering Committee (SC) decisions that affect the larger community. We have provided more accessible resources, such as the new format for the SC minutes, the newsletter, and the OGP Gazette. However, we recognize that it can be hard to keep track of all the changes and decisions regarding participation in OGP. In 2017, the Steering Committee approved a series of reforms to the way the Support Unit and the IRM work in order to raise the bar for participation, ensure stronger co-creation processes, and push for more ambition in action plan commitments. This post provides a summary of them.

Last year, in response to concerns expressed by OGP government and civil society participants regarding closing civic space in OGP countries and the rules governing OGP eligibility and participation, the Support Unit set out to refresh OGP’s rules of the game. In early 2017, OGP Deputy CEO Joe Powell outlined that a second stage of the strategic refresh would be to take a “hard look at OGP’s rules of the game, to ensure [participants] are incentivizing the progress on open government reform that the partnership was set up to catalyse.” This process would focus on four key components of how OGP works: 1) Eligibility Criteria, 2) Response Policy, 3) Procedural Review and 4) action plan development guidance.

1. Eligibility criteria. While the eligibility criteria to participate in OGP did not change, the Steering Committee decided to add an additional step to the process of joining OGP. Beginning in September 2017, countries who wish to join OGP need to pass a ‘Values Check’ before they are allowed to participate in OGP, in addition to reaching the minimum score of 75% in the established eligibility criteria. The Values Check uses two indicators from the Varieties of Democracy ‘Dataset on Democracy’, an independent peer-reviewed database with over 350 indicators. The two indicators used by OGP measure i) the extent to which the government has control over the entry and exit by civil society organizations (CSOs) into public life, and ii) the extent to which the government attempts to repress CSOs. In order to pass the Values Check and be able to participate in OGP, countries need to earn a passing score of 3 or above (on a scale of 0-4), in at least one of the two indicators. The Values Check only applies to countries that have not yet joined OGP, and does not apply to countries that have already joined.

2. Response policy. The OGP Response Policy was established two years ago to uphold the values and principles of the partnership when core open government principles are under threat in participating countries. The policy has led the OGP Steering Committee to review complaints filed against several countries. This includes Azerbaijan, which is now in inactive status in OGP, pending improvements to the operating environment for civil society in the country.

During 2017, the Criteria and Standards subcommittee worked with a legal expert to tighten the language of the Response Policy, and to adjust definitions and processes based on the learnings from two years of implementation. This updated version was approved by the SC in September 2017 and is available here.

3. Procedural review. A country’s participation in OGP can be reviewed by the Steering Committee if the government acts contrary to OGP process for two consecutive action plan cycles. The acting contrary to process triggers are the minimum requirements that all OGP participating governments are expected to comply. During 2017, the Steering Committee updated the triggers considered ‘acting contrary to process’ to align with the changes reflected in the new Participation and Co-creation Standards.  Effective 2018, a country is considered to have acted contrary to process when:

1. The country does not publish a National Action Plan within four months of the due date.

Country and OGP Local Action Plans should be published by the August 31st deadline. If a participant delivers its new AP late, but within four months of the August 31 deadline (before January 1 of the following year), the calendar end date for the AP will not change. If a government delivers its new AP after January 1 of the following year (more than four months after the August 31 deadline,) it will be shifted to the following year’s cohort and be considered to be starting a new AP cycle. Such governments will have acted contrary to OGP Process for that action plan cycle, and will receive a letter from the Support Unit noting this occurrence.

A detailed calendar for countries can be found here, and here for OGP Local participants.

2. The government did not meet the International Association for Public Participation’s “involve” level of public influence during development, or “inform” during implementation of the AP, as assessed by the Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM).

In line with OGP’s Participation & Co-creation Standards, in order to meet the International Association for Public Participation’s “involve” level of public influence during development and “inform” during implementation (as assessed by the IRM), governments will have to provide evidence in their Action Plan and online repository that the following three standards were met:

  1. A Forum exists: the forum meets at least once every three months (four times a year).
  2. The Forum is multi-stakeholder: both government and civil society participate in it.
  3. Reasoned response: the government will have to document or be able to show how it provided feedback during the co-creation process (more information in the table below).
  4. Online repository: see below.

3. The government fails to collect, publish and document a repository on the national OGP website/webpage in line with IRM guidance.

Starting in 2018, OGP participating governments have to collect, publish, and document a repository on the domestic OGP website/webpage in line with IRM guidance. The repository should serve as a transparent and easy way to provide an update on implementation of all OGP commitments and processes to all interested parties. The OGP lead agency and Point of Contact (POC) will be responsible for the creation, update, and maintenance of the repository, in close coordination with agencies responsible for implementing commitments. Governments must meet the minimum requirements outlined below, or will be found to have acted contrary to process.

  • Available online: no barriers to access, and no password or credentials are required to access the content.
  • Real-time or regular: evidence and assessment should be updated at least once every six months – this also means that all content should include timestamps.
  • Evidence-linked: relevant evidence for progress and completion is available.

For examples in English, please look at Australia’s or Canada’s repositories.

4. The IRM Report establishes that there was no progress made on implementing any of the commitments in the Action Plan.

If the IRM Report establishes that there was no progress made on implementing any of the commitments in the Action Plan, the government will automatically be placed under Procedural Review, regardless of whether this was the first or second occurrence of acting contrary to process.

4. Action plan development guidance.  The average number of commitments in OGP National Action Plans (NAPs) is currently thirteen. The IRM has identified that the five largest APs account for 20% of all commitments, with some plans having over fifty commitments. In order to help countries focus on the ambition and quality of commitments, as well as ensure credible implementation, the Steering Committee approved the following resolution related to the number of commitments for National Action Plans that will be developed in 2018:

The Steering Committee continues to encourage action plans between 5 and 15 commitments according to current guidance to encourage specificity, relevance, ambition, and credible implementation. The Steering Committee strongly recommends that, beginning in 2018, countries cap the number of commitments per action plan to 20 with a suggested maximum of 5 milestones per commitment, with the aim of incentivizing more ambitious commitments in National Action Plans. The Steering Committee will review the effects of the commitment cap at the appropriate time, factoring in the costs associated with supporting and reviewing National Action Plans and the growth of OGP’s Subnational pilot program.

This resolution only applies to National Action Plans. OGP Local Action Plans will continue to have a five-commitment cap.

What’s next?

Over the next few months, the Criteria and Standards subcommittee will oversee the update of the OGP Articles of Governance to ensure that all of these changes are properly reflected in the OGP ‘constitution.’ In line with the subcommittee’s work plan and current guidance, once approved by the Steering Committee, we will bring these changes to the OGP community for public comment. Over the following months, the OGP Support Unit will also produce other reference and guiding materials to raise awareness about these changes.

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