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Joining Forces to Empower & Serve Citizens: A Tale of Two Partnerships – GPSA & OGP


Sanjay Pradhan – Opening Panel Remarks at GPSA Forum 2017

This is a tale of two partnerships – the Global Partnership of Social Accountability (GPSA) and the Open Government Partnership (OGP).  Both had their origins in 2011.  And they had the same vision of citizen-centric, responsive governance: governments serving their citizens by amplifying citizen voices, which government would respond to.  Today, there is a major opportunity to join forces to accelerate progress on that precious vision.

The Origins – GPSA & OGP

It was the day President Hosni Mubarak fell from power in Egypt, following mass protests in Tahrir Square. My phone rang – it was then-President of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick. At the time, I was the Vice President for the World Bank Institute.  President Zoellick asked me to stop by to brainstorm on the implications of this extraordinary development, and how the World Bank should respond. As we brainstormed, I said that if we could mobilize and leverage the same civic energy that brought down Mubarak, but on day-to-day issues that matter to citizens, and if governments could respond to that, then this would sustain the momentum of the citizen movements like the Arab Spring and enhance development impact.  For this, I stressed that we needed a new, dedicated instrument, like GPSA, to build the capacity of civil society to mobilize citizen feedback. We would need the World Bank Group to support governments in responding to civic participation. That was the genesis of the GPSA.

That same year, at the UN General Assembly, President Obama and seven heads of state joined forces with civil society leaders to launch the Open Government Partnership (OGP).  In President Obama’s words, the objective was to ensure that governments truly serve their citizens. The mechanism for achieving this was for reformers from governments and civil society in participating countries to co-create national action plans, with concrete commitments, to make governments transparent, participatory, responsive and accountable to citizens.  

So while OGP serves as a country-owned platform to bridge the supply and demand side of governance, GPSA serves that purpose inside the World Bank.  

The Current Context

Fast forward to today: 52 countries have opted in to GPSA, and 74 countries and 15 subnational governments, along with thousands of civil society organizations, have signed on to OGP.  OGP countries have co-created over 3000 commitments in over 170 action plans.  

With this foundation, there is a tremendous opportunity for OGP and the World Bank Group to join forces to accelerate development impact, especially as we face new challenges in the present geopolitical context.  The promise of the Arab Spring has certainly dissipated; instead, civic space is under attack in over 100 countries and authoritarianism is on the rise. Furthermore, major polls report that citizen trust in government is at all-time low, with the Edelman Barometer calling 2017 the year of “Trust in Crisis.” Dramatic electoral results and the rise of populism in both developed and developing countries reflect deep citizen distrust in government. Citizens increasingly feel governments are ruled by elites: elites that live in cocoons, are disconnected from their concerns, or are captured by narrow special interests.  

In this context, the World Bank Group, including GPSA, OGP, and other partners, can scale up their partnership to serve as a countervailing force to these troubling global trends by putting citizens at the center of governance and simultaneously maximize development impact.

Leveraging OGP’s Country-Owned Platform for Development Impact

This enhanced partnership can be anchored in the country-owned domestic platform that OGP offers, supported by the World Bank and other donor assistance, for two reasons.

  • In terms of process, OGP offers a domestic, country-owned platform of government-civil society partnership.  This provides civil society an equal seat at the table alongside government in co-creating national action plans, enabling civil society to amplify the voice of the voiceless, of ordinary citizens and the poor, which government can respond to.  Domestic accountability is provided by civil society and from OGP’s Independent Reporting Mechanism, through which local researchers assess whether governments are living up to their commitments.  

  • The reforms that are being co-created can accelerate development impact. Let me illustrate:

    • Take the key development objective of fiscal efficiency and combating corruption: in Ukraine, reformers from government and civil society joined forces to launch the open contracting platform ProZorro. This is a major step forward from traditional e-procurement – all contracts are disclosed under open data standards, so they are searchable by the public.  This has resulted in fiscal savings of over $1 billion in two years.  And Ukraine has now taken this to the new frontier – DoZorro – where citizens can track the implementation of contracts, report problems, and track government response. Open contracting is rapidly gaining momentum as an emerging global norm, with 23 OGP countries, including Nigeria and Kenya, committing to open contracting.  But credible implementation and success would require that the World Bank Group and donor partners support government, civil society, and the private sector in implementing open contracting commitments in OGP countries, where much more can be done.

    • Take service delivery: in the Philippines, the government disclosed spending for roads and schools online, frequently geo-coded to identify exact locations.  Civil society then mobilized citizens to give feedback to see if these roads existed. The Commission of Audit integrated social audits, mandating government response, and saved $300,000 per ghost road.  In Mongolia, citizens were trained to fill out community score cards on 84 different public services, followed by dialogue with government, which then took actions to improve access to water and sanitation in response to citizen feedback, closing the feedback loop.  

So what if the WBG’s projects for transport, education, water and sanitation supported such domestic co-creation processes between government and civil society, where civil society mobilizes citizen feedback on service delivery through instruments like GPSA or bilateral assistance, while WBG operations support government response?  This would be a different approach, and would support country-owned domestic accountability and accelerate development impact.

Or take the area of rebuilding citizen trust, which is at all-time low. Some years ago, in the aftermath of conflict, South Kivu Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo set aside a line item of the budget to be voted upon by citizens, and when citizens saw that projects they had voted on being worked on – such as road and school repair – tax collection jumped 17 times. This was a tangible demonstration of increasing trust in government.  We are now seeing a scaling up of participatory budgeting and policymaking as OGP expands into subnational governments, where government is closest to citizens.  Such reforms can help win trust back.  

Scaling Up WBG-OGP Partnership

So if OGP can help accelerate development impact, how can we scale up OGP-WBG partnership towards that goal?  We have an excellent partnership between OGP and the Governance Global Practice within the World Bank. Donors have already announced a multi-donor OGP trust fund to be housed in the World Bank which will support government and civil society in the co-creation and implementation of OGP commitments.  This is a very important and welcome development, and will generate good synergies between WBG and OGP.

But we can do much more together.  A major, recent development is that the International Development Administration (IDA) within the World Bank has targeted citizen engagement and open government development as a priority. If this can be credibly implemented with even a modest fraction of the $75 billion IDA budget, it could support governments in responding to citizen voice through country-owned platforms like OGP, and would make a huge difference in the lives of ordinary citizens and the poor.  The WBG could consider four options or actions for its next stage of citizen engagement and open government agenda to credibly achieve these goals:

  • A stronger alignment between WBG country strategies and operations, so GPSA with OGP could more systematically support country-owned OGP platforms.  With 43 OGP countries borrowing from WBG, there is tremendous scope for aligning and leveraging WBG support for open government – we are only scratching the surface.  

  • Renewing the WBG’s citizen engagement strategy.  The WBG has a citizen engagement strategy that is focused on whether task teams for investment lending projects have a beneficiary feedback indicator and project consultation mechanism.  Through the renewal of this strategy, there is an opportunity to broaden this in three ways: (i) broaden the focus from World Bank project teams to borrowing governments; (ii) broaden to include government responsiveness to citizen feedback; and (iii) broaden to program lending which supports systemic-sectoral reforms where government (not just a WBG task team preparing an investment lending project) mobilizes and responds to citizen feedback.  

  • Stronger financial support from WBG and development partners for civil society capacity building through mechanisms like GPSA and OGP Trust Fund. There is a tremendous imbalance: governments receive considerable support, but there is only rather paltry support for civil society to amplify citizen voice.  This needs to be redressed to mobilize the voice of ordinary citizens and the poor, and accelerate development impact.

  • Civic space is essential. It is imperative for the World Bank and development partners to support the protection and enhancement of civic space as crucial for development effectiveness, and not shy away from this – especially in the World Bank – by mislabeling this as “political” or “partisan”.  In this regard, OGP provides a space to build an evidence base to show how civic space – where citizen participation and feedback is mobilized on key development programs – can benefit political leaders, citizens and the advancement of development results. Interestingly, at a time when civic space is under attack in over 100 countries, OGP countries like Latvia and Serbia have prominent reformers in government and civil society leveraging the OGP platform to expand civic space by improving the enabling environment for civil society.  We need to support more countries to do this.

In closing, I want to invite the World Bank Group and all GPSA partners to use and leverage the country-owned OGP platform to maximize development impact. In 2018, 50 countries will be developing national action plans. This is a great opportunity to integrate social accountability and responsive governance in concrete commitments.  

Two partnerships had their genesis in 2011.  Today, the World Bank Group and OGP can join forces to truly deliver on that precious, shared vision of government serving citizens by amplifying and responding to their voices.

Open Government Partnership