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Open Government and OGP is not about change, it is all about transformation!

Veronica Cretu|

Originally posted on Veronica Cretu’s blog.

Whenever there is a conversation about public administration reform, open government or citizen engagement I can’t ‘pass by’ :)! I guess this is the kind of passion one has for life, as once you understand the value, impact and effect the governance processes have on the quality of the services delivered to the citizens, this changes everything. And in the end, it is our passion for particular areas we deal with that makes us different from each other, in addition to one more small yet very important detail: the quality of the decisions we make.

I have always wondered about what might have determined the 75 Governments in OGP decide to join the initiative? Were they genuinely thinking about the value of open government for public sector; or were they all aiming at good governance, accountability in the public sector and more voices of the citizens being heard in the policy making?! How different are Governments part of the OGP from those who are not part of it?

It will be probably one of the most complex tasks for OGP to assess in the future, given that since joining, OGP governments might have changed several times, the current ones might be having other top priorities for the day.

Going back to the decision to join OGP – how transformational and impactful has this decision been for the countries?

Last week in Tallin, the „e-Partnership Conference” took take place and brought together more than 150 experts and policy makers from Armenia,  Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine as well as the EU Member States.

The first day brought together several public servants as part of the 13th Eastern Partnership Panel on Public Administration Reform. The day was rich in discussions around some thematic areas among which open contracting and open data, accountability and OGP, ProZorro Initiative of Ukraine, accountability and human resources: professionalization and ethics of the civil service with examples from Estonia and Georgia.

It was during this day that conversations around OGP generated questions related to:

  • How to bring the culture for open government in the government itself?
  • What can be done to motivate/inspire public servants to embrace accountability, citizen-engagement and participation?
  • The role of the citizens – how do we make sure to reach out to them? How do we know who ‘owns’ the expertise in particular areas and could contribute to policy shaping?
  • The role of open data comes over and over again, how do we make sure governments use the data for its internal use in the first place, before going out to build more demand for it?
  • Why are we addressing Public Administration Reform in the context of OGP or vice versa?
  • Is OGP about a change or transformation in Government?

It was also interesting to hear from some EU member countries representatives present in the room reflections related to their own countries coming into the OGP quite late, and were wondering why so late? Many wondered about how to make OGP processes lasting and what would be the best ways to strategize around that.

The second day, focused more on how Eastern Partnership countries are using information and communications technology to increase the transparency of government processes. The conference also provided an opportunity to assess the safety and security of the cyberspace across the region, and exchange ideas for improvement. A new study on e-democracy based on field research in all six partner countries was released at the event by the Estonian e-Governance Academy.

It is this study that comes to illustrate that OGP is acting as an enabler of e-democracy and e-participation.

“First and foremost, as the study demonstrated, the Open Government Partnership initiative that provides an international platform for domestic reformers to commit to making their governments more open, transparent and participatory, has clearly played an important role in fostering e-democracy in most countries of the region that joined the initiative. The vast majority of governmental commitments in the EaP region related to e-democracy derive from OGP Acton Plans that undergo independent international monitoring and evaluation. From this perspective, OGP can be regarded as a “soft pressure” mechanism as well as a driver at least to the extent of fostering the “kick-of” process of e-democracy development in the EaP region”.

The panel I was invited to speak during the second day, entitled “What is the potential of ICT in increasing transparency of government processes and inclusiveness of civil society?” departed from the OGP and its role in bringing more opportunities for ICTs in promoting transparency and citizen engagement. This was a lively debate with Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Ukraine on the panel and sparked several questions among which:

  • What can we do to bring more citizens into the decision making processes? What has happened at country level with citizens, given that they tend to engage less and less? It is all getting back to lack of trust? And can OGP become that platform for leverage for more open and accountable governments?
  • Are we reaching out to the right citizens? Do we reach out to ideators, diffusers, designers of solutions, ideas, processes?
  • What do we, as CSOs, have to learn to do differently? Might there be a value in rethinking the way we engage with our stakeholders?
  • Why the civil society culture overall in the EaP is so weak still?!

Some of the concluding remarks of the panel were: start from yourself if you want to help transform governance and processes; get ready for the future as it is right here & now and get rid of old ways of doing business; educate and engage citizens more actively in decision making processes.

Lawrence Meredith, Director for Neighbourhood East, Directorate General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations, European Commission, in his closing remarks congratulated OGP for its impact in the EaP that comes so vividly through the presented study.

But there was one idea that followed me throughout the entire event and that is: OGP is not about changing the Government or processes in the Government through commitments part of National Action Plans; it is much more profound … it is about transforming the Governance processes and the culture in the Government.

If OGP was about change, many things would have been changed long ago …

The reason OGP is about transformation, it is because it is painful for many, it is far more challenging. It takes Governments out of their comfort zone, it requires new ways of thinking, it looks for non-standard ways of doing business, it looks into what the citizens want/feel/believe in or expect, it takes everyone involved into the un-known –which is scary and unpredictable. New mindsets, new behaviors and attitudes are part of the transformation.

I truly hope that the more we talk about OGP, the more work we do at home under the OGP framework, the more likely is to bring those transformations in place.   

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