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Open gov, local gov

Maya Forstater |

We recently added a new resource page on local government to the Open Government Guide to reflect the importance of local government action for transparency, accountability and participation. 

From  participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre to social audits in Andra Pradesh to tracking snow ploughs in Chicago,  many of the most iconic examples of open government innovation have been created not by national governments, but by cities, states or provinces.  This is perhaps not surprising, since local authorities are often responsible for the tangible public services, from road maintenance to education, and sanitation to policing, that form the most immediate relationships between government and citizens.

In some cases local governments lead the way, while in other cases national governments set standards first. São Paulo City Council set up its open data portal in 2012, before the Brazilian Federal Government. In the Philippines the national government provides a Seal of Good Housekeeping and funding awards to local government units that demonstrate full compliance with the ‘full disclosure policy’.

Local government and the OGP

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is a club of nations. But it is clear that if open government commitments are only implemented at the national level they will fail to reach the majority of citizens.  Recognising this, National Action Plans increasingly include measures to mandate, encourage or support action by local government. For example the Dominican Republic’s Action Plan includes a commitment on local government, while  Colombia’s government has committed to work with municipalities to build open government strategies at local level. South Korea is extending its open budget commitment to municipalities, and Mexico‘s budget transparency commitment includes transfers of assets from the federal government to states. Ghana has made a commitment to establish guidelines for local budget participation and  the UK’s second Action Plan included a commitment to issue a revised Local Authorities Data Transparency Code. Civil society in Ireland has proposed a commitment to identify and promote best practice initiatives for local government consultation, engagement and public participation.

There is currently no formal role for local governments within OGP’s mechanisms of national commitments and independent reviews. However, many of the learning and experience sharing sessions of OGP meetings already include ‘inspiring stories’ from cities and states. At a national level, associations of local government are becoming involved in the consultative processes for development and implementation of National Action Plans, and are issuing guidance and carrying out training for their members.

As the new Open Government Guide resource page highlights, many open government topics   are relevant to local government,  such as  Asset Disclosure and Conflict of InterestBudgetsCitizen engagementOpen Government DataPublic contractingPublic servicesRecords management,   Right to Information, and Whistleblower protection. Depending on the responsibility of different jurisdictions, many of the sector focused topics, such as LandEnvironmentPolice and public security and Construction are also relevant to local authorities at different levels.

Institutional structures, responsibilities, powers and characteristics of decentralized institutions vary considerably between countries, making it difficult to set common global standards. However guidance on open government issues is increasingly being tailored to local government. We have built a first collection of signposts to this guidance on the resource page, but if you know of other useful material and case examples, please let us know, to include them in future updates of The Guide.