Making Subnational Commitments through the Open Government Partnership

This post is part of a blog series we are running over the next few weeks to highlight core open government issues and give you ideas to consider as you develop your new National Action Plan. In our previous post, we looked at how bridging access to information and open data with effective records management can enhance a country's ability to achieve their open government goals and priorities. This week, we look at how subnational commitments can be incorporated into OGP National Action Plans. 

-The OGP Support Unit

Why should the Open Government Partnership be used as a forum to make subnational commitments?

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is a partnership between governments and civil society organisations, focused on improving government transparency, accountability and responsiveness to citizens. So far OGP has operated at the national level, with nearly 70 countries joining the partnership in four and a half years. In a move designed to enhance the impact of open government commitments and innovations on citizens, OGP has decided to pilot the direct engagement of subnational actors in framing open government commitments through a subnational pilot program. Cities, provinces and municipal governments offer solutions for addressing challenges of poverty reduction and sustainable development. These subnational governments have the potential to be more responsive, flexible and less bureaucratic than governments at the national level. Open government initiatives at the subnational level therefore have the potential to generate greater impact, make more sense to people’s lives and are easier to measure.

Governments can deepen their commitment to open government and engagement with their citizens, by making broad and substantive subnational commitments in their OGP National Action Plans (NAPs) with active civil society engagement. This note offers suggestions for developing NAP commitments on open government at the subnational level to complement the efforts of subnational governments in developing their own action plans under the OGP Subnational Pilot Program.

Why make subnational commitments in National Action Plans?

OGP is encouraging governments to build on the energy and innovation evident in subnational governments, to achieve more ambitious commitments in National Action Plans. More than half the population in developing countries will be living in urban areas by 2030. Within a rapidly urbanizing world, cities play a significant role in global economic development (with 75% of global economic production occurring in cities) and global climate change (with 67% of total global energy consumption and 70% of greenhouse gas emissions in cities). As such, the implementation of the Paris Agreement and the creation and implementation of a New Urban Agenda through the Habitat III process will center on the role, power, and capacity of cities. Other levels of subnational government have varying degrees of devolved authority but the thing that connects them is the significant role they have to play in the lives of their citizens.

How should governments make subnational commitments?

Subnational governments and civil society actors focused at the local level, should be invited to participate in consultations and workshops organized around the development of National Action Plans. This will make sure that commitments are participatory, achievable and relevant to subnational jurisdictions.

To enhance the chances of ambitious commitments that can be implemented, governments should also encourage participation through local engagement – holding workshops and events in different areas and using local media and other channels to raise awareness about OGP and opportunities to be involved.

Commitments that are relevant to subnational governments should also hold them accountable for their progress, at the same time as conferring the appropriate powers and autonomy to achieve them. Regional and national networks of subnational government officials or local civil society actors are an additional constituency and resource for producing subnational commitments.

Examples of subnational commitment areas

More transparent and participatory creation of urban and regional development plans and policies at the subnational level:

  • Creating permanent, robust and transparent public participation processes for the design of urban/metropolitan/regional development plans, such as master plans, land-use plans, city strategic visioning plans, at the level closest to the people.
  • Ensuring a breadth of consultation with relevant agencies, including civil society, marginalized groups and the private sector, to seek out a diverse range of views and inputs.  
  • Documenting the outcome of public consultation and government responses and all individual written comments and submissions as an online resource that is publicly accessible.

Supporting subnational governments to provide user-friendly, locally relevant data and information in accessible ways:

  • Committing to e-government through the creation of data and information portals and ensuring adequate updating and maintenance of the sites. If relevant public information is not yet digitized, ensuring that this data is digitized and made available.
  • Providing adequate and relevant local information to the public with a focus on usability and accessibility, and ensuring that information is available in digital and non-digital forms.
  • Releasing information or datasets in open data formats to meet sectoral requirements, such as releasing transport data in the General Transit Feed Specification or greenhouse gas emissions in alignment with GHG-Protocol standards, to maximize accessibility, replicability, and utility.

Supporting the creation and implementation of devolution and decentralization frameworks for subnational governments, such as local budget transparency legislation, access to information policies for local public services, mandatory participatory engagement in subnational government policy formulation.

Supporting the transfer of subnational level open government innovations to other regions or adopting at a national level, such as participatory budgeting at the neighborhood level (as in Amsterdam’s Indische Buurt neighborhood) or the Smart Region initiative of creative ICT based solutions in Denmark.

Existing OGP Subnational Commitments

Only a few OGP countries have currently incorporated pioneering subnational commitments in their respective national action plans. In the past, specific subnational commitments have made up only a small portion of national action plans (around 4%). These subnational commitments have predominately focused on e-government (22%) and citizen participation (17%), with the majority replicating national government commitments at the subnational level without any specific sectoral component. Some examples are:

  • Netherlands: 2016-2017 Action Plan committed to: the development of a standard for the public of information as open data, in a form which is reliable, reusable and permits ready comparison (at the local level).
  • Paraguay: 2014-2016 Action Plan committed to: Create new and strengthen existing Municipal Development Councils and develop participatory local plans, conduct monitoring and convene public hearings, focused on positively influencing local welfare.
  • Macedonia: 2014-2016 Action Plan committed to: Build the capacity of local governments for proactive communication with citizens, establish an electronic platform with indicators for the delivery of one or more local services, establish institutional forms of cooperation of local authorities and citizens, transform local services into e-services, and introduce new tools and procedures for conducting due process of citizen consultation.

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