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Looking at the World through the Lens of OGP

Jacqueline McGraw |

For many of your average Janes, Joes, and Jackies, “open government” can seem like a niche topic. Here in Silicon Valley, where I am based, “unicorns” (referring to new startups valued at over $1 billion) and “augmented reality” (a technology-altered view of the world) have become mainstream vocabulary while the term “open government” remains somewhat of an enigma. You can imagine then how friends’ eyes might glaze over when I explain that I track the Open Government Partnership’s (OGP) international media coverage in a weekly blog called “OGP in the News.” As niche as it may seem, OGP’s press coverage serves as a powerful tool for understanding the many facets of OGP and the open government movement.

What is the biggest takeaway after more than a year of writing “OGP in the News,” you ask? For tech gurus and ordinary citizens alike, OGP is much closer to our everyday lives than you might think!

Here are a few examples of OGP initiatives and updates that I have found surprising, inspiring, or just plain interesting, all of which I learned about while writing (and which you can learn about by reading) “OGP in the News.”

  • No one was more surprised than myself when I discovered I could speak somewhat fluently about the Space Apps Challenge, which had become the sujet du jour in San Francisco among my engineer friends during the last week of April. A 48-hour international hackathon aimed at using open data to develop innovative, citizen-driven solutions to pressing global issues on Earth and in space, the Space Apps Challenge was born out of a commitment in the first ever United States OGP National Action Plan (NAP) and carried forward in the second U.S. NAP! However, it wasn’t until I stumbled upon an article from Italy’s Diariodelweb.it about Turin’s participation in the event that I connected this worldwide display of “citizen science”—very much in line with the open government principle of citizen participation—with OGP.
  • State of the art technology is far from the only way toward open government innovation. Reporting on one of the OGP commitments of Bojonegoro, Tribunnews found that our Indonesian subnational pioneer is redefining financial disclosure practices by publishing budgets and accountability reports on billboards. I was struck by this ingenious approach, which is undoubtedly much more effective in encouraging citizen participation among communities with limited computer access.
  • During the swell of OGP news surrounding the 2016 OGP Global Summit in Paris (mentioned in well over 500 news stories and opinion pieces), I read one particularly remarkable piece by OGP Ambassador Winnie Byanyima for the Huffington Post blog. Highlighting Costa Rica’s OGP commitment mandating consultations for any decision affecting the country’s indigenous populations, Byanyima described so eloquently what I think is the true mission of OGP: “Governments, steered by their commitment to OGP, must reimagine the way in which they foster citizen participation in decision-making. It is essential that they engage more meaningfully with the voices of marginalized and least represented people.”
  • And earlier this year in a more random turn of OGP events, newfound support for OGP came from the Czech “Pirates”—referring, of course, to the Czech Republic’s Pirate Party. In an article by ParlamentníListy.cz, Pirate Party Chairman Ivan Bartos described the national education system as being stuck in the “times of the Austro-Hungarian Empire” and announced the party’s plans to leverage international cooperation for education reform using the OGP platform.
  • Bringing it back to tech, South African newspaper The Times profiled Matriculant Moses Mhlwana, a highschool student from Pretoria who, after watching The Social Network, became interested in IT and went on to participate in the Hack4Water competition run by the Department of Water and Sanitation and OGP South Africa. Mhlwana and three friends wowed the judges with their high-tech water tank prototype which saves water by allowing “users to digitally select the amount of water they need” and recycling any water that may be spilled.

With 75 national and 15 subnational governments, thousands of civil society organizations, and a future promising continued growth, keeping up with OGP is not quite as simple as keeping up with the Kardashians. That is why “OGP in the News” can be a good entry point for both seasoned OpenGov nerds and newcomers looking to learn more about the Partnership.

Covering everything from gender to press freedom, knowing more about OGP really means knowing more about the issues you care about! So regardless of your location or career, I encourage you to take “open government” and “OGP” from niche to noteworthy by integrating both terms into your everyday vocabulary.