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Make Open Great Again – OGP 2021

Tamara Puhovski|

It’s 2012, I am sitting in the cabinet of the Deputy Foreign Minister Joško Klisovic, with my notebook and a pen on my lap, trying to catch all the new information and tasks at my new job. I am impressed,slightly nervous, but mostly excited about everything I’m hearing. Then, Deputy Minister pauses and emphasizes…and that is a summary of the road Croatia needs to take, this is exactly the kind of roadmap for the future we need, I knew it the instant I heard about it, and I immediately advocated membership. I look down…I have written – Open Government Partnership (google it!), did he say Obama? (look it up!), boss is the president in Croatia (go through minutes of the OGP Council in Croatia!). Ana Šimundža, Head of the Office of the Deputy Minister, and I’m suspecting the brilliant mind behind many OGP details in Croatia, emphatically slides a big folder into my hands and says – have a look, we’ll go through it later. I didn’t have to, I already knew I was going to love my job.

It’s 2016, I am sitting at home, working. I have quit my job as a public servant not being able to handle the necessary compromises that kept piling up in order to do my job right. I hoped to have shared custody of OGP with the Government, but since the elections there has been no Government OGP activity in Croatia. I have expanded my knowledge by focusing on social innovation as well as continuing to work on transparency, inclusiveness and responsibility of public policy in the region and globally by serving as a judge on OGP Awards and keeping Open Youth going. I look at my to do list, move stuff around and write: OGP 2021?

It’s 2021, I’m sitting on a plane preparing for the big celebration. I’m hoping to see many new faces and already have a motivational speech prepared for them, yes it’s frustrating, but that’s how you know you are a part of something revolutionary and exciting. Look around, almost all of the UN members are here. Madam Secretary General will open the ceremony, representing that not only is OGP an idea whose time has come but it is a standard for the 21st century.

Some of the people I have met before. We now have institutionalised OGP week, the last week of November just before the deadline for handing in National Action Plans (NAPs) (moved in order to allow for planning resources from the state budget), when all the OGP member states Embassies in the country organise events to present and discuss their NAPs,progress made, and to discuss joint commitments and project applications for the common OGP funds. Since funds are sizeable and the precondition is joint application by Government and NGOs, civil servants and diplomats are bragging about their partnerships and joint ideas.

I’m glad to see that Open Youth clubs are chatting online and trying to figure out how to apply for the Youth Challenge this year. We now have over 50 youth clubs all over the world, keeping a watch on the ambition of the project and using their enthusiasm and high tech expectations to push for change.

I make a note to talk to other colleagues from the OGP Center of Excellence. We need to discuss the new batch of certificates. It’s not easy to manage, since the Center of Excellence is an online network of OGP civil servant alumni, all persons who have significantly contributed to the OGP process in their countries and are willing to share their experience and knowledge with junior colleagues or new countries, and that’s a lot of people. They get nominated by their country’s NGOs and it serves as a badge of honour as well as a way to support those doing a great job within the system. Its workshops and online education is becoming more and more popular with political party youth, it seems they finally understand how OGP policies in campaigns get you elected. We are also seeing the civil servants with OGP certificates are getting recognised and have a better chance of promotion. Center of Excellence is our brain trust, making sure that we retain and nourish all the OGP human resources as well as our social and cultural capital bank run by the Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM).

In our last meeting we finally made a decision to have mandatory preconditions for Permanent forums. They now have a dual function and structure. It took us a long time to figure out how to get the housekeeping commitments out of the NAPs and make sure there are transformative commitments. Permanent forums now have a job, together with the Center of excellence to keep an eye on public policy and government services, making sure that it uses new technology, that it is open and transparent and inclusive. They serve as horizontal policy and service Government policy labs. The second job of the Permanent forums is searching for, embracing, and supporting social innovation through challenges, direct democracy discussions and research. This is where you really see the importance of a multi-stakeholder initiatives that involve government, local government, youth representatives and civil society in order to crowdsource the best ideas.

As I land, I hear a lot of noise and chaos and smartphones flashing all over. Its Open Youth. I wonder what they will pull off this time. There are always those sceptics and naysayers that won’t budge unless they get a dose of Open Youth enthusiasm and change the world attitude. Open Youth has proven to be our perfect weapon. Also I have to talk to their representative to the Steering Committee and make sure they keep it within reason. I must be getting old. I wonder what they wish for the next decade of OGP.

I’m on the phone with Sandra Pernar, the safekeeper of Croatian OGP. Croatia is presiding this year and is opening the Summit in Dubrovnik with the concert of the Open Youth Ambassador Chris Martin. I remember when Igor Vidacak, one of the most brilliant people behind OGP in Croatia, sent us ideas for OGP Ambassadors that I ended up proposing at the Steering Committee – Chris Martin, and Sandra added…George Takai. Now, who wouldn’t love being a diplomat when these are your positions to take?

It’s 2016, I’m back at my to do list for the next six months work in the region of Western Balkans. With all the severe political issues it’s very hard to advocate for OGP but there has been reason for optimism. It is clear that:

  1. Open Data sells and is a great way to engage government, at the same time we have to be careful not to send the message that technology, in itself can solve social or political transparency and openness challenges.
  2. We are the region where Open Youth started. Hopefully we will be the first region to organise Open Youth Clubs, giving the next generation a space to learn, experience and advocate not just for democracy, like we have been doing, but for a specific OGP certified democracy, to use new technologies and open data to demand change on a local, national and regional level, to develop projects and guarantee that the future government will have citizens that already expect the transparency, openness and inclusiveness we are fighting for.
  3. We need openness awards for civil servants. The criticism of the public sector is really necessary but if we don’t nurture and support the few that are pushing for change we will risk not having such individuals at all. I have heard so many times civil servants asking why they should do OGP, since it’s more work, no understanding from their colleagues and superiors, and they will still be publically criticised as leeches of the state budget that never do any good. That needs to change.
  4. In young democracies and transitional societies we can’t leave OGP up to electoral cycles. We need to work with biggest political parties and their youth in researching their understanding of what concepts such as transparency, openness, public engagement, open data, social innovation mean to them.  We must educate party youth and give them the tools and the motivation for change within. We must empower them to keep OGP standards in place, sustainably, and to mainstream them into either public policies or political programs.
  5. Last but not least, open youth, local government and SDGs have given us a possibility to come together on joint commitments, and address some of our common concerns that are a matter of policy and not necessarily politics in the sense it is used in the region. We must further explore local government race to the top in the field of transparency, anticorruption, citizen engagement, social innovation and open data while we continue to work with the very complex national political systems and their engagement. We must do that together if not as governments than as civil society regional network.
Filed Under: OGP News
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