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In Praise of the Reformers

Joe Powell|

The Open Government Partnership was designed from its launch in 2011 to be a different type of multilateral initiative, one that places government and civil society on an equal footing. OGP pushes for the implementation of policy reforms, not only communiques and paper commitments. OGP suggests foreign ministries take a back seat and instead give domestic reformers a turn to shine on the international stage. And it requires independent accountability of country progress, free from the redactions and vetoes that so often make third party reporting toothless. These fundamental principles will be on full display at the third Global OGP Summit, in Mexico City from October 27-29.

The central argument of the Summit will be that open government can make a real difference in people’s lives. We know from the 2015 My World UN survey of more than 8 million people that a more honest and responsive government is a top priority regardless of where you live. That’s why the second annual open government awards will be given to reformers  running projects that improve public service delivery through increased transparency, public participation and accountability. It is crucial that these reformers within political systems, however challenging, are supported in their efforts to open up government to more scrutiny and feedback. Excitingly, several new countries are set to join OGP at the Summit, bringing fresh ideas and political energy to the partnership.

OGP will also move swiftly on agreeing mechanisms for the implementation of the new Global Goals for sustainable development, agreed in September at the United Nations General Assembly. As a first step, a new international declaration will be launched, to be signed by both governments and civil society, pledging to use future OGP action plans to introduce policies that will assist in reaching the new goals. The hope and expectation is that all 66 OGP countries will sign the declaration in the coming weeks. To support this ambitious move, policy ideas on health, education and the environment are already being crowdsourced. This will be part of a special edition of the community-owned Open Government Guide which will outline how a more open approach to development can contribute to all 17 of the Global Goals.

These promises of reform will continue to be tracked by the watchful eye of the Independent Reporting Mechanism, a vital accountability check on OGP performance. The eight governments which founded the organization, alongside civil society leaders, will all receive their second major progress reports at the Summit and the onus is on them to lead by example and show what they are learning. The data in the reports show some positive trends, including on the quality of engagement with civil society, but there is still room for improvement when it comes to being ambitious and helping to tackle society’s most pressing public policy challenges.

The Summit will also welcome mayors from three continents to explore greater local government engagement in OGP. Cities are leading the way on many open data and citizen engagement innovations, and it is important these ideas are shared. It is expected that a pilot group of local government leaders will be invited to experiment with the OGP model, using policy co-creation with civil society to address governance challenges in their jurisdictions.

There was a risk that sandwiched between the adoption of the Global Goals, and crucial climate changes talks in Paris, the OGP Global Summit could be marginalised. OGP’s approach and reach ensures that this will not be the case. The partnerships OGP has built with the development banks, bilateral donors, research institutes and think tanks are all contributing hugely to its mission of changing the culture of government. But at the heart of OGP is a different type of spirit, one free from the baggage of North-South, East-West diplomatic spats and traditional development thinking. The spirit is one of everyone having something to learn and something to offer, regardless of whether you are government or civil society, or what side of the political spectrum you come from. Open government challenges everyone to improve. It is not an easy ride. If it was, OGP would not exist and basic freedoms would not continue to be under threat. As it is, the challenge to the reformers gathering in Mexico City next week are to be one of the “small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens” that have always changed the world. 

Open Government Partnership