OGP Civil Society on the driver seat

It is difficult to find a unique and 140-character-long definition of what open government means. In the end, it is all about transparency and civic participation with the final objective of creating more effective and accountable institutions. People are understanding that democracy goes far beyond voting once in a while and we are slowly becoming citizens involved in our communities. At the same time, there is a governance deficit.  According to a recent study by the  OECD, citizens in close to 50% of member countries are losing trust in their government.. To further this topic, two very important regional events on the Open Government Partnership took place in Mexico City on March 20 and 21. On the 20th, Fundar, in coordination with IMCO and CitiVox—and with the help of international organizations like OSF, Omidyar Network, Hewlett Foundation, the World Bank and the OGP—brought together around 50 representatives of civil society organizations from 11 countries to discuss the benefits and risks of the Open Government Partnership. Despite a 7.4 Richter scale earthquake that took place almost at the beginning of the session, the discussion was very dynamic and everyone was eager to know more and participate. Several risks were discussed like the oversimplification of problems by governments, such as an attitude of just needing to check off a list with minimum conditions to satisfy each commitment and in the fastest possible way. However, various benefits were also identified like the international compromise and spotlight of each country with their commitments spelled out in their action plan, the availability of governments to discuss and work together with civil society on the action plans, and the possibility of organizations getting their agendas on the table. On the 21st, and because an event by the Organization of American States (OAS) took place the day before, most of the organizations replied to an invitation by the Mexican government to continue the discussion with government counterparts, academia, and representatives from other institutions. The day led to two very important conclusions. The first is that the action plans of each country are living documents and in constant change. These are just the first iteration, but eventually there must be less consultation and more instant feedback loops of each commitment as well as new ones. The second was that open government does not refer only to national governments but also to parliaments or congress, cities, and institutions. The use of technology and new tools and ways to interact in real time were always part of the conversation. New ICT tools can help citizens engage and participate in policy making, as well as  bring an opportunity to reorganize the public sector at times of budget constraints. The Internet has a democratization effect. Not only does it empower citizens to participate but also governments to understand and address real needs. Projects can be catalyzed and legitimize through openness, accountability and collaboration. Today, with access to new tools and with initiatives like the OGP, we have an opportunity to reframe and rejuvenate government in very promising ways. We're looking at a new space and opportunities for transparency, accountability, engagement, and collaboration. Citizens and civil society organizations don't need to wait to be invited to participate. They must find ways to be involved and on the driver seat.

Authors: Jorge Soto
Filed Under: OGP News