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New IRM reports give light to new OGP trends

Joseph Foti|

This year OGP’s Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) put out 18 new reports. For the first time, we have data on second action plans, with the eight OGP founding countries reports due out at next week’s Summit.

So, what do we learn from all of these new reports? Let’s take a look:

Are OGP countries improving?

Let’s break that apart into a few different aspects. First, there is the process for OGP. Second, there is how well countries do in their commitments.

So, to be more specific, are governments consulting more?

Indicators from the IRM reports show some real progress in terms of countries meeting the basic requirements of OGP. As a reminder, there are 6 procedural requirements for participation for each OGP country in preparation and implementation of an action plan. Some promising points

  • New countries do better now when they joined than earlier countries. On average, almost all countries that joined in 2013 have ongoing mechanisms for consultation. This is up 48% from 2012’s 40%. Other changes haven’t been as dramatic, but they also started from a better place.
  • Almost every OGP country met more requirements on its second action plan than on the first.
  • In general, compliance in OGP has gone up over time (2012-2014) from an average of 2.4 steps complied with to 3.75.

OK, but just meeting OGP’s steps doesn’t mean that participation wasn’t “checkbox” participation.

You’re right. And that’s why the IRM began measuring this starting in 2012. So, here the results are more mixed. We measured two things-whether consultation was open to anyone who wanted to join (or observe) and whether public opinion actually had any ability to influence the actual outcome. The findings:

  • 43% of countries had open processes throughout the OGP action plan. Three of the 13 that had consultation throughout the plan, however, only consulted with invited individuals and organizations.
  • The overwhelming majority of newly assessed countries gave the public opportunity to give input during consultation (13 of 16), and six of those had an iterative process for proposals and revisions. Troublingly, three of the governments consultations largely amounted to in person briefings or information sessions with no opportunities for public input.

What about commitment implementation and ambition?

Most of us would like to know if OGP countries are improving their completion rates, if they are becoming more ambitious, if they are covering key topics. Some of that we can do now, some we’ll have to wait for. Let’s start by what we don’t know. A few things to remember:

  • The IRM is just now publishing reports on action plans that started at the end of 2013. (That’s how the OGP calendar is set.)
  • It was only since early 2013 that action plans officially became 2 years exactly. That means that some action plans were shorter than two years, a few were three, many did not specify and others foresaw breaks between the years. So, yes, we could assess levels of completion, but given that we are mid-term now and we don’t know how long the earlier plans were it wouldn’t be a reliable measure of anything. (You’re free to try it on the OGP Explorer, though at http://bit.ly/1kAD49e).
  • The IRM only started rating commitments for “potential impact” in 2014. That means we don’t have longitudinal data on this aspect of ambition yet. Wait for 2016 for that data.

So what do you know about action plans?

A few things are pretty clear at this point:

  • Action plans are getting shorter and more specific at the same time. The average plan dropped from over 20 commitments to around 18 commitments. But the average commitment now has three milestones in place of 20.
  • Action plans are becoming more diverse. The median action plan now touches on 15 issue areas where earlier plans, on average, touched on 11. This suggests more involvement by more agencies (supported by the surveys done by our colleagues on OGP’s civil society team) and more diverse civil society as well as a positive learning effect across countries.

But is OGP tackling the big issues like civic space?

This is a tougher question. Right now, we know that some crucial measures are positive. Public participation commitments are growing in absolute and relative terms. At the same time, global trends [http://bit.ly/1OWYtEP and http://bit.ly/1byzA1O%5D show that there are crackdowns on freedom of association. In OGP, commitments tied to key issues like NGO law, access to justice, and civil and political rights have stayed roughly steady across the years in terms of interest- often at a relatively low number to begin with (with 12%, 18%, and 13% respectively). Further analysis is needed to see if these get implemented as frequently as the average commitment.

In conclusion, the new reports give us a few vital signs. For some fundamentals, there are clear signs of improvement. No where is there strong evidence of flagging interest in OGP or rapid deterioration of a certain area. On the other hand, the IRM leaves it to governments and civil society to decide what the right level of implementation, ambition, and scope of an action plan should be. Designing and implementing a great action plan is a negotiation with many compromises, as it should be, and the best victories are often hard won.

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