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Let’s Talk about the Future of Public Participation in OGP

Hablemos del futuro de la participación pública en OGP

Public participation is at the heart of OGP, so it was no surprise that it was a frequent topic across community conversations during the consultations for the new OGP strategy. The message was clear: OGP needs to rethink its approach to public participation, but what does that mean in practice?  

The IRM analyzed 106 commitments that achieved significant changes in public participation government practices. These include commitments that created forums, mechanisms, or processes that consulted or allowed the public to provide feedback on specific policies or report on specific community issues. While their impact was a positive step forward the vast majority of the commitments tended to be one-off developments and did not leave a lasting legacy of institutionalized, binding, or sustainable changes. 

To help us reflect and think through some of our findings we turned to two experts and long-time friends of the IRM: Anabel Cruz and Cesar Nicandro Cruz. Anabel (the current OGP Steering Committee co-chair) and Cesar (a member of the IRM’s International Experts Panel) were both part of the first generation of IRM researchers.

How can OGP shift the focus from one-off developments to institutionalized approaches of public participation?

Anabel: We need to start talking of open public society, not just as an ad-hoc feature or an ornament, but as an integral part of the process. It’s not easy because we have to change the whole culture of government, the culture of public offices, and the culture also of civil society organizations.

Cesar: Offering alternatives (of participation) is not the same as promoting processes towards change and improvements on the basis of more inclusive and qualitative participation which is why I think we could use the new strategy to change OGP’s incentives, some rules and reimagine our main narrative in terms of public participation.

How can OGP support scaling one-off practices to transcend to the whole of government?

Anabel: There are very good examples of public participation across the world. But they are somewhat scattered, and fragmented. There is not yet a system, probably of learning, and taking into account all of those practices and replicating them in some form.

Cesar: Successful public participation practices can be scaled but it will not necessarily imply more openness if public participation continues to be seen as an accessory to commitments and not a foundational ingredient in a strategy to open government. The main idea here is to value innovation and learning and offer tools to support these processes.

What more can be done to make public participation a cross-cutting backbone that permeates through all that OGP does?

Anabel: For that, two things are crucial. One is about the importance of resources, about the importance of resourced, strong, accountable organizations. The other crucial element, I think, is the protection of civic space. It’s clear that open civic space is an enabling environment for real public participation processes. OGP has the opportunity to work with international, national, and local actors in both the public and private sectors to counteract the shrinking civil space trend. Probably, more robust national and local plans in terms of the protection of civic space and the protection of human rights can help reverse these trends. If we don’t have an open civic space and an open environment, OGP cannot realize its mission and public participation will lose all meaning.

Cesar: We should encourage public participation beyond action plans, beyond the co-creation process and multi-stakeholder forums (MSFs). This means promoting progress in existing legal frameworks, in institutional structures, creating opportunities for capacity building, and opening up participation in new or existing spaces in other policy areas. Let’s also keep in mind that OGP MSFs are a successful democratic innovation whose concept, promotion, and improvements have been led by and for OGP. So it’s no longer about governing for people, but instead with people. If this is not a clear shift for OGP and for the member governments, the strategy will not be successful.

How do you see the IRM in the next five years?

Anabel: In terms of research and in terms of generating solid and relevant data, I think the IRM is one of the most important things we have. Keep up the good work! I think the IRM is a chain of solid links that connect the entire OGP process.  

Cesar: The IRM should be seen as a place of learning and accountability, but above all as a way of working that enables us to protect the partnership, and allows us to defend OGP’s work based on experience and comparable knowledge. I also think it has been a fundamental element to improve OGP processes and action plans.

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