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Laying the Foundation for the Next Five Years: A Recap of the June Steering Committee Meeting

Manish Bapna|

Earlier this year, civil society members of the OGP Steering Committee (SC) put forth an ambitious set of goals we wanted to accomplish together as a Partnership, building on the direction of OGP’s new strategic plan. We identified key challenges that we needed to make progress on to ensure that OGP continues to serve as a home for reformers, both in government and civil society, to drive change that tangibly improves the lives of citizens. Six months in is a good time to review progress.

The SC met in Washington, D.C last month, for the first in-person meeting this year. The meeting agenda focused on several issues that aimed to push for better co-creation processes, more ambitious content in National Action Plans, and more effective implementation.

This SC meeting started with an approach different from previous ones. We spent the first day brainstorming about how we could further strengthen the espirit de corps and performance of the Steering Committee. How can the SC most effectively galvanize momentum across the 75 national and 15 subnational OGP members? What role can the SC at the country level, thematic level, and global level? The discussion was facilitated by a few founding SC members who were able to help us think how the “secret sauce” of OGP could be reinvigorated five years later. The aspired outcome was to build a common sense of purpose among SC members to play a more strategic and political role to ensure that OGP builds a positive global movement for openness and deeper democracy, and acts as a countervailing force against the rise of closed government.

While you can read more about the individual decisions in the meeting minutes, I wanted to share the following high-level takeaways from the meeting:

A. Rules of the Game

The principles governing the OGP process – the “rules of the game” – were a key topic at the meeting. Our colleagues on the Criteria and Standards subcommittee put in a great deal of thought into examining potential options for changes to the rules regarding OGP’s eligibility criteria, response policy, and process for developing and implementing National Action Plans. (See here.)

We recognize that the issue of eligibility criteria is of particular interest to the civil society community. At the meeting, the SC agreed that the proposed changes needed further work. One of the key challenges in streamlining eligibility criteria is the absence of globally recognized and peer reviewed datasets that provides a comprehensive snapshot of civil liberties, civic space, robust democratic engagement and related issues. We, the civil society members of the SC, recognize that the current four criteria do not reflect a truly “open government,” so we will endeavor to ensure that whatever changes are made to the eligibility criteria are a step forward in addressing this gap (Provide your input through this public call for ideas to strengthen OGP’s eligibility criteria). We also discussed proposed changes to several other “rules of the game” which can be found in the minutes.

We also identified the need to design a rapid response mechanism, in addition to the response policy, for cases in OGP countries that may merit a more timely set of actions beyond the current response policy. A subset of SC agreed to work together to examine possible options for these issues.

B. Raising ambition and building a movement

Greater ambition is needed in commitments made and commitments implemented. To strengthen the link between open government and thematic priorities within countries, the SC decided to sunset the Peer Learning and Support subcommittee and establish a Thematic Leadership subcommittee.

With more issues that OGP National Action Plans cover, along with more partners that work with OGP, we need to improve how we leverage existing expertise across the Partnership and identify better ways to cross-fertilize ideas and experiences. So whether we are aiming to replicate commitments on beneficial ownership, on public service delivery or on climate change, this subcommittee would help OGP build relevant platforms for collaboration, implementation and accountability.

We also discussed the value of an annual “State of the Partnership” report, drawing from the wealth of IRM data that exists on OGP National Action Plans. The SC discussed possible options for such a flagship report, including what kind of research and evidence will actually be useful to OGP members, and what value such a publication would have in facilitating a “race to the top”.

While we raise ambition, we also need to broaden the base of actors and communities engaged in open government. We devoted an entire afternoon to discussing how we could deepen engagement with groups including the private sector and parliaments.

C. Country-specific issues

Finally, the SC discussed several country-specific cases in depth, including the decision on the “inactive” status of Azerbaijan. You can read about SC resolutions and recommendations on specific countries in the minutes. One of these discussions, on Mexico, merits particular attention. The SC focused on recent events that led to civil society organizations in Mexico withdrawing from the Mexico Tripartite Technical Secretariat that governs the national OGP process in their country. This is not a response policy case, but the SC felt that this deserved attention given that the actors involved were co-founders of OGP. Both Alejandro Gonzalez (a current SC member who was part of the civil society coalition in Mexico) and the Government of Mexico presented their perspectives. In addition, the SC discussed 1) what type of support and guidance the SC can provide to government and civil society; and 2) how the SC can respond more effectively to such situations in the future. On the former, we decided that two SC representatives would visit Mexico to initiate dialogue with the government and civil society on protecting and advancing OGP values. On the latter, we decided to establish a rapid response mechanism (see above).

While the SC discussions were productive and forward-looking, we recognize that there is still a lot of work for OGP, as open government is facing serious headwinds in many places around the world. We reached out to the open government community with an email summary following the conclusion of the SC meeting, and would like to continue the dialogue with you. We invite you to join incoming civil society Co-Chair Mukelani Dimba and me on a call on August 2 as a continuation of the Strategic Dialogue series that we initiated last year. Click here for details!

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