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Learning to Open Government: New Evidence to Inform OGP’s Efforts to Make Change Happen

Michael Moses|

Global Integrity is excited to present the results of “Learning to Open Government,” a first of its kind examination of how the Open Government Partnership is playing out in practice in five countries: Albania, Costa Rica, Mexico, the Philippines, and Tanzania. We did not evaluate OGP, but our findings can help us, and pro-reform actors engaging with OGP, better understand whether and how OGP is contributing to country level reform. This project was undertaken with the support of the Transparency and Accountability Initiative.

Our findings are timely, coming as they do soon after Sanjay Pradhan, OGP’s new Chief Executive Officer, renewed OGP’s commitment to supporting purpose-driven collective action in the open government community. We’re hopeful that our work on these issues can inform OGP’s next phase, and support its  transformation from “a mechanism to a movement” that helps lead to to tangible improvements in governance, and ultimately, people’s lives.


Beginning in April 2015, we worked with local open government experts to produce five exhaustively researched case studies. The cases dig into the ways in which pro-reform actors are able to leverage the resources, processes, and spaces provided by OGP in order to pursue improved government responsiveness and accountability in their countries. Each case explores the country’s open government journey, unpacks OGP’s position in the broader open government landscape at the country level, and uses interviews, document reviews, and other sources of evidence to analyze whether and how pro-reform actors are engaging with OGP in specific political contexts. Our synthesis paper reviews the case studies, and generates lessons and reflections meant to inform the continuing evolution of OGP.

Lessons: What can we learn from the evidence?

So with that in mind, what can we learn from the case studies about OGP and its operationalization in the five countries we researched? And what might those lessons mean for the future of OGP? For the purposes of this blog, we restrict ourselves to three high-level lessons:  

  • OGP investments in securing commitments from high level political leaders often do not operate as might be expected. OGP awards, summits, and events, and the commitments political leaders make at those events aim to open up space for mid-level government reformers and civil society activists to pursue and enact meaningful open government reforms. However, these investments do not consistently appear to translate, in the five countries we researched, into additional leverage for pro-reform actors at the country level. Indeed, our findings reinforce the idea that, as OGP continues to evolve, it will be important to strike a balance between public relations opportunities and getting things done.

  • OGP’s integration with politics is key to results. The effectiveness of OGP’s efforts to support collective action to rebalance power may depend on whether and how  pro-reform actors are able to link OGP to their political strategies, organizational needs, and other pre-existing conditions. The politics of specific sectors and bureaucracies in specific places affects the content and implementability of OGP reforms. Expectations about the pace of governance reform that OGP, National  Action Plan cycles, and other OGP mechanisms, on their own, can support, may be too high.

  • Integration with in-country politics is also crucial to transforming the culture of open government. Pro-reform actors sometimes face challenges in their efforts to use OGP inputs, like the National Action Plan Cycle, beyond OGP – where many open government reforms are contested and the culture of government is shaped. Part of the challenge is that OGP mechanisms do not, in the five countries we researched, seem to generate spillover benefits that enhance the ability of pro-reform actors to jointly navigate the complexities of political reform processes and co-produce reforms. Sometimes, the presence of OGP might deflect attention from other reform avenues that might be more effective means of generating change, and the short term nature of National Action Plans might limit OGP’s ability to contribute to longer term reforms. Currently, the links between OGP’s formal mechanisms and other reform efforts seem underdeveloped, but could be strengthened moving forward.

For additional lessons, see this short brief. For more detail and fine-grained analysis of these issues, see our full synthesis paper.

Reflections: How might OGP adapt?

Our work suggests that OGP might consider the following:

  • Reviewing the balance of OGP investments between global summits, awards, etc, and country level support, and pursuing complementarities where possible. This might mean devoting more resources to encouraging and supporting pro-reform actors in government and civil society, while still maintaining efforts to incentivize buy-in from high level political leaders. More research is needed to understand when, where, and how OGP and its international supporters can put in place incentives that are conducive to country-level reform – OGP may find it useful to consider supporting the development and uptake of such research.

  • Providing more flexible, politically informed assistance for pro-reform actors’ collective action. This could mean piloting new approaches to supporting effective collective action in-country and helping the Support Unit and Steering Committee acquire additional strategic and technical expertise that allows them to step up engagement with and support to pro-reform actors. Making this change goes beyond providing a customized set of off-the-shelf political economy analysis products for ad-hoc use. It should emphasize a pivot in the way support is conceptualized, with a focus on deepening efforts to help domestic actors plot, understand, and act collectively to navigate and shape the political reform landscape in their country.

  • Providing assistance for learning about the political as well as the technical. The Support Unit and its partners may want to give greater emphasis to providing tools and resources – including cross-country learning and multi-stakeholder collaboration, as well as peer exchanges, guides, and events – that move beyond a focus on the OGP process, and emphasize understanding whether, why, and how reform outcomes are achieved by OGP participants working in specific contexts. Supporting learning of this type, on how to navigate the politics of reform, might lay the groundwork for deeper open government changes in the future.

See the brief and paper for additional, and expanded, lessons and reflections. The country case studies also provide tailored recommendations for pro-reform actors working in Albania, Costa Rica, Mexico, the Philippines, and Tanzania.

Where do we go from here?

We are excited that our research is providing food for thought on how to take OGP to the next level. Conversations on these topics are already taking place. Over the coming months, we’re planning to build on our ongoing efforts to take this research, and the lessons and reflections that it inspires, to those best suited to incorporate it into their work with OGP. We’ve already led workshops based on the research with government points of contact at the Africa and Americas OGP Regional Meetings, and hosted  sessions for general audiences at the Mexico Global Summit and  Africa Regional Meeting as well. We’re exploring how we can assist in broadening collective reflection on how OGP is playing out in practice, including holding additional sessions at the OGP Global Summit and in other relevant fora.

We’re keen to help the OGP Support Unit and Steering Committee work out how to assist reformers at the country level in reflecting on and learning from the experiences of the five countries we covered. We’re also exploring ways through which this research might factor into the upcoming mid-term review that OGP is planning, and into T/AI’s strategy development process as well. Our research suggests that OGP would benefit from putting into place stronger processes for continuous, learning, reflection, and adaptation. This would include, but is not limited to, regularly reviewing and adapting the OGP Theory of Change at the country and global levels.

We’re looking forward to stepping up our engagement with OGP, supporting these processes, and helping the initiative to sharpen its impact and effectiveness. OGP can play an important role in supporting progress toward more open government; careful reflection on the experience so far will help to make sure that it fulfills its potential.

Open Government Partnership