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Making sure there’s room for the P in OGP

Linda Frey |

The P in OGP stands for Partnership.  Not just any partnership, but a unique coming together of government and civil society to make progress on critical open government reforms. The model works best if government officials and civil society activists in the country find ways to work together to make government more transparent and responsive to citizens.  

This model often requires ‘changing the culture of government’ – the theme of OGP’s new video, launched last September at our High-Level Event at the United Nations.  

At this same event, President Obama captured well why this culture shift is so important:

The Open Government Partnership is not simply a partnership between governments; it’s between governments and their citizens. At times, this can be frustrating. At times, it can be contentious… But, as leaders, making our governments more open does mean that as a consequence of [that] criticism, there’s self-reflection. And it means that questions are asked that might not have otherwise been asked.

In order to effectively participate and ask difficult questions of their government, citizens must be able to consolidate their interests – and influence – by coming together in civil society organizations.  This, in turn, requires laws and regulations that protect the following principle, endorsed by all OGP participating countries:  

We commit to protecting the ability of not-for-profit and civil society organizations to operate in ways consistent with our commitment to freedom of expression, association, and opinion.

— OGP Open Government Declaration

Respect for these freedoms is critical to the OGP model, which is why every country that joins OGP is asked to sign on to the Declaration. However, establishing an adequate legal framework for civil society to thrive can be challenging in practice. Organizations like the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) have decades of experience studying and developing guidance on this very issue. Next week they are convening a Global Forum in Stockholm on ‘Shaping Civic Space.’

It’s therefore a great moment to spread the word about some of the innovative policies that OGP countries are implementing to protect and strengthen the ability of civil society organizations to participate in the policy process. Here are just a few examples from recent OGP action plans:

  • Bulgaria approved a strategy to ensure financial independence and sustainability of non-governmental organizations
  • Croatia enacted rules obliging government agencies to consult the public on proposals of draft regulations
  • Chile committed to “promote the participation of the entire community in processes for developing and implementing public policies.”
  • Macedonia enforced a mandatory 30-day period for government to consult with citizens on draft legislation
  • Ukraine adopted a Law on Public Organizations that simplifies registration and allows CSOs to “pursue any lawful aims, engage in economic activities for not-for-profit purposes and acquire membership in public associations.”

Given that open government – at its core – is about facilitating public participation, it would be great to see even more commitments like these in future OGP action plans. For those interested in pursuing this, I wanted to pass along a few useful resources and opportunities:

  • The Open Government Guide chapter on citizen engagement offers guidance on approaches to establishing an enabling environment for civil society and increasing public consultation on public policy;
  • The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) is an excellent resource for those who would like to learn more about methods to enable citizens to participate in public policy and law-making. Next week’s ICNL Global Forum will include a session on May 11 about ‘shaping civic space through OGP’ that will be facilitated by Suneeta Kaimal and Paul Maassen.
  • In the spirit of peer learning, Croatia, Georgia, Mexico and other OGP countries have offered to speak with others who would like to learn from their experiences in promoting public participation.  Please don’t hesitate to contact the Support Unit if you’d like a referral.

OGP is designed to promote a race to the top among countries that strive to make their governments more open and accountable. In this spirit, it would be great to see a real sprint on new citizen participation policy commitments by OGP countries in the coming year!

Linda Frey, Executive Director, Open Government Partnership

Photo Credit: Sharon & Nikki McCutchenson