The OGP Steering Committee will be meeting in Cape Town on 3-4 May. The agenda and papers for that meeting have been published here. Among other discussions there are a couple of decisions that need to be made on who the new co-chairs of OGP will be and on what OGP should do about governments being reviewed by the Steering Committee's Criteria and Standards subcommittee because they are acting contrary to OGP processes, or under the Response Policy. Steering Committee members will also have the opportunity, nearly a year and a half into implementing the four-year strategy, and as OGP approaches its fifth anniversary, to review progress and have a discussion about how to enhance OGP's impact over the next five years. This post is intended to frame that discussion and pose some questions. We'd love any thoughts or feedback about it so if you have something to contribute please get in touch by tweeting @opengovpart or email kitty.vonbertele@opengovpartnership.org

 

In late 2014 the Steering Committee agreed a four year OGP strategy for 2015-18, which we have collectively been implementing for nearly a year and a half. The strategy acknowledged the rapid growth of OGP in its first three years, including a dramatic expansion in the number of participating countries, and outlined a clear theory of change for how OGP can contribute to transformative change. This included the role of Steering Committee leadership, what resources would need to be mobilized, and the core functions of the Support Unit and Independent Reporting Mechanism. This note updates the Steering Committee with progress on OGP’s strategic objectives since our last meeting in Mexico City in October 2015, and as we approach our fifth anniversary poses some critical questions on how we can collectively deepen OGP’s impact over the next five years.

1. Maintain high level political leadership and commitment to OGP

The Mexico Summit in October 2015 was a major opportunity to attract high level political participation. Ministers from 41 countries attended and several political leaders from subnational governments spoke. This reinforced OGP’s political clout, but more importantly it allowed ministers to meet their peers and exchange ideas on open governance.  

In January, the Support Unit wrote to OGP ministers in all the countries developing 2016 National Action Plans, to remind them of the June 30 deadline, and to send them the special edition of the Open Gov Guide on the Sustainable Development Goals. This was designed to encourage SDG linked commitments, and to give official level points of contact an opportunity to engage their ministers on the consultation process for the new action plans. Since then Support Unit and IRM staff have visited nearly 20 countries either to support workshops and consultation processes, or to attend one of the IRM report launches. In the vast majority of these trips staff have met ministers to discuss OGP, and ministers have participated in public events. An official visit can help raise OGP’s profile at the political level, draw attention to IRM findings, make a push for more ambition, and provide advice on the co-creation process with civil society. The assessment for whether a staff trip can help is based on whether the right ingredients are in place for the OGP theory of change to work - in particular an engaged civil society and official level reformers in the system, or whether there is a specific challenge that needs to be addressed.

High level political leadership from the Steering Committee can also lead to big opportunities, or significant achievements for OGP. For example the Franco-German joint cabinet meeting led directly to a commitment from Germany to join OGP this year. The US President’s visit to Argentina included reference to OGP, and has helped reinvigorate the process there. Ministers from South Africa, US, UK and civil society leaders have led a sustained outreach program to Nigeria which we hope will soon result in a formal letter of intent. Ministers from Georgia have been involved in setting up OGP’s new anti-corruption working group, and Romanian ministers recently hosted a peer exchange event with OGP countries from the region. There are many other examples, including from former Steering Committee members like the Philippines who have ministers assisting Sri Lanka with the first OGP plan. These types of engagement keep OGP politically visible, relevant and create space for really ambitious reforms to take place.

2. Support and empower government reformers with technical expertise and inspiration

The Support Unit government support and peer exchange team (GSX) is in regular communication with government points of contact from all OGP participating countries. This means they are aware of developments on the ground and are able to identify and help address challenges such as upcoming elections and administrative changes, and to provide continued support during the National Action Plan development and implementation. Over the last few months GSX has focused on providing support to the 50 countries that are developing new National Action Plans this year, especially those doing so for the first time such as Sri Lanka, Cote D’Ivoire, Papua New Guinea and Australia.

In order to encourage more peer exchange the GSX team has helped create three sub-regional country networks: the Nordic country network (Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Norway, and Sweden); the East and South Europe network (Bulgaria, Moldova, Greece, Romania) and the Southern Cone network (Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay). The feedback received so far has been very promising. The official level points of contact have been able to share their opportunities and challenges in more detail (unlike during the time pressurized regional or global summits) and there has been talk of developing bundled commitments in areas such as beneficial ownership and on implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. A Western Balkans and Central America network will soon be launched.

The upcoming regional OGP meetings in South Africa (May 5-6) and Uruguay (June 1-2) will both be further opportunities to share experiences, and each will be preceded by ‘points of contact camps’ where officials leading on OGP will work with the Support Unit on upcoming National Action Plans and implementation challenges.

3. Foster more engagement in OGP by a diverse group of civil society actors

The Civil Society Engagement (CSE) team of the Support Unit continued to help civil society coalitions in OGP countries to engage in the national process, and encourage new actors to join those conversations. This has been especially useful for countries developing their first National Action Plans, and others like Greece, El Salvador and Mongolia, where civil society needed to be re-engaged. Further, as part of the strategy on broadening the base of actors at the national level, there has been significant outreach and engagement with international networks and coalitions. There are currently over 15 international networks exploring engagement in at least one OGP country developing a National Action Plan this year.

The CSE team hosted an annual civil society peer learning event in January to encourage sharing of tools and experiences that can help influential leaders improve their national-level OGP processes. The meeting, with leaders from 18 countries, also highlighted some of the challenges faced in achieving greater civil society engagement. OGP is frequently asked to update our guidelines on consultation, so that they reflect our collective aim of encouraging co-creation and collaboration in all three phases of the National Action Plan cycle: development, implementation and monitoring. A proposal for these new guidelines is being discussed by the Criteria and Standards subcommittee in Cape Town. In addition, the CSE team will shortly publish a new manual on how to improve sustained dialogue on the OGP process between government and civil society organizations.

The recruitment of new civil society Steering Committee members has also been used to encourage greater civil society engagement in OGP, with a global, transparent and participatory search resulting in six candidates being selected from 47 nominations.

4. Ensure that participating countries are held accountable for making progress towards achieving their OGP commitments

This year the IRM has produced and published 35 reports, as well as its first “end of term reports” for Hungary, Finland, and Netherlands which assess commitments at the end of each two-year cycle. An additional eight end-of-term reports for founding countries are also now under production.

The IRM and Support Unit staff have worked to ensure that researchers are supporting communications on OGP IRM reports, to raise the profile of the findings and enhance the likelihood of recommendations being taken into account in subsequent National Action Plans. This year we have seen seven events where the launch of the IRM report was used as an opportunity to launch consultations for the next National Action Plan; high level government participation (ministers and above) in six countries and significant media coverage of report launches.

The Support Unit and IRM team have just produced a new guide that showcases a selection of commitments from OGP action plans that the IRM awarded “star” status in its latest cycle of reports. They represent reforms that have potentially transformative impact on citizens in the country of implementation. Our goal is to update and regularly share new commitments that are awarded star status in subsequent IRM reports. By highlighting ambitious and innovative approaches to tackling major public policy challenges, we expect to be able to encourage a ‘race to the top’ among OGP countries. This report will be sent to all OGP participating countries, will be distributed at regional meetings and promoted on the OGP website.

Support Unit and Independent Reporting Mechanism Institutional Health

The Support Unit and IRM will soon welcome a new CEO, Sanjay Pradhan, after eight months of an interim management arrangement. The team has also expanded in other ways, including: two communications officers to support the communications director; two new members of staff based in Europe to support governments and civil society in the region with the largest number of OGP countries; a program officer focused on outreach to international NGOs and coalitions; and an events officer. We have also undertaken a website discovery project, to redevelop our website in a way that is consistent with OGP’s values of participation, transparency, promoting open data and using new technology effectively.

The OGP Support Unit and IRM remain in good financial health. The budget for 2016 is projected to be $6.8M, although this will increase with the fourth Global Summit now planned for 2016. In 2015 25 governments made contributions totaling $2.5M, exceeding our estimate for the first year of country contributions. Foundations continue to provide generous multi-year grants which are essential to OGP’s financial stability. The incorporation of the OGP Support Unit and IRM as an independent non-profit is underway following Steering Committee approval, and is currently expected to conclude in the first quarter of 2017.

Conclusion: Future challenges, opportunities and topics for discussion in Cape Town

The Steering Committee continues to be responsible for leadership of the partnership, and for setting a strong example to other participating governments and civil society organisations. In addition to this, the Steering Committee has specific expertise, and access to expertise within governments and civil society organizations, that can support OGP processes around the world, and which we need to be able to use and deploy more strategically.

We would like to use the Cape Town meeting to have a discussion on the overall state of the partnership, and then focus specifically on a number of challenges and opportunities.

Challenges:

  • The Steering Committee has talked in the past about bundled, or joint, ambitious commitments in National Action Plans but they have not yet materialised at any significant scale. How can our various resources be put to best use to achieve them? Could Steering Committee countries co-creating new plans this year agree to one bundled commitment?

  • IRM reports continue to highlight the challenges of implementation of some of the most ambitious commitments. Is OGP equipped to address some of the main reasons the IRM list as reasons for failed implementation?  

    • The form of the commitment is not clear and actionable

    • The commitment goes against national law, is contrary to what other government departments are doing or does not fit the economic/social context

    • There are no financial resources attached to implementing the commitment, or a lack of technical expertise

    • There is no internal coordination to ensure accountability within the government for implementation of OGP commitments, or the lead institution has no mandate to compel the implementing institution

    • The commitment lacks high level political support, or challenges powerful vested interests who do not want to see a commitment succeed

    • A change in political administration - or even civil service staff - removes the champions of a commitment

    • A commitment requires a change in law, which the executive branch proposes but is not passed by the parliament

    • A catastrophic event diverts attention and resources

  • At the last Steering Committee meeting, members volunteered to buddy new or under-performing countries. In some cases this has had positive results, in others diplomatic support has not been sufficient to reboot the OGP process. What other types of outreach and assistance are needed in these cases?

  • There continues to be a group of countries were the OGP process is weak, consultation is highly limited and commitments are unambitious. Should OGP accept some country processes will always be weak? How can the Steering Committee and Support Unit better assist these countries?

  • It remains a challenge to broaden engagement in OGP within government to more departments/ministries, and outside government to a wider range of civil society groups. How can we broaden this network of reformers in the next five years?

  • To enhance OGP’s reach and impact we need stronger stories and demonstrations of the impact of open government. The Support Unit will invest resources in better understanding results and accounts of specific innovations, but would be interested in Steering Committee ideas and feedback about the kind of information and presentation of these that would be most useful. What are the types of stories and examples that inspire change?

Opportunities:

  • Steering Committee leadership on thematic projects and policy areas can be extremely powerful. For example the subnational program was proposed at the Steering Committee, taken forward with the Support Unit assisting on design and implementation, and now has 15 strong pioneer local government members. To deepen OGP’s impact there is a need for Steering Committee members to take leadership of more thematic topics, and focus efforts on helping other countries to make progress. This could include areas like open contracting, budgets, anti-corruption and citizen engagement. It would also see the Steering Committee take a more proactive role in helping the six OGP Working Groups to achieve their objectives of brokering peer exchange and technical assistance around specific topics.

  • Steering Committee members have regularly raised international events and processes where OGP could be more prominently positioned, for example the Habitat III meetings, the World Economic Forum, and being embedded in the G7/G20 negotiations and communiques. This will require Steering Committee leadership and prioritisation.

  • For Cape Town a number of Steering Committee members are preparing short ‘pitches’ for areas they will lead on. Some of these ideas are included in the background papers for the meeting. These include:

  • Mexico: Enhancing the impact of the declaration on open government for the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.

  • Manish Bapna and France: Increasing the number and quality of climate change linked OGP commitments.

  • United States: Accelerating digital government in OGP; OGP ‘response corps’.

There will also be separate break out sessions on two topics:

  • Mukelani Dimba and Chile: Deepening the role of legislatures.

  • Brazil, Georgia, UK, Transparency International and Open Society Foundations: Enhancing anti-corruption commitments in OGP.

 

Other ideas for areas of Steering Committee leadership are strongly welcomed and will form part of the discussion in Cape Town.

 

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