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Open Government: Reflections from Uruguay

Gobierno Abierto: Una reflexión desde Uruguay

Virginia Pardo|

By the time you read this, hundreds of people from all over the continent will have arrived in Montevideo to take part in the OGP Americas Regional Meeting. It is an honor and pleasure for Uruguay to welcome the people in the region striving to make a difference. Five years into the process, we would like to share with you some of the lessons we have learned and that we hope to discuss over the course of the event.

We have made progress in stages. When we first started the process in Uruguay, no one really knew what open government was or what benefits it would bring. The creation of our first action plan occurred in a complex context and was not as successful as we would have liked. We had never co-created or co-implemented commitments before; this was a new experience for the government as well as for the organized civil society. However, there were many interesting elements to highlight.

The process uncovered the existence of a civil society that was willing to participate, as well as independent evaluators willing to take their job seriously. We should also highlight how important it is for the country to have the right conditions, including a strong institutional framework, laws to regulate access to public information, and a democratic culture.

During the creation of the second plan, we were better prepared, which allowed for the creation of forums for dialogue that led to concerted actions in key issues like open data and access to public information. This resulted in significant improvements in the dialogue; we achieved a true collective construction and consensus that allowed for collaborative decision-making by the government, civil society and academia.

Fortunately, the third National Action Plan is in high demand from new and diverse stakeholders. There are new approaches, challenges and issues to incorporate into the agenda, and new voices to be heard, both from the government and from civil society. We needed a proper forum to dialogue, which is a very demanding job in need of willing actors.

Good things have come out of this process. We improved our legislation, leading to proactive disclosure of public information in an open data format; we demonstrated that the co-creation of public service policies is possible by implementing the initiatives atuervicio.uy and pormibarrio.uy. We opened up government information to be used by other stakeholders through platforms such as rampita.uy and precios.uy. We also encouraged data journalism in our country.

We initiated dialogues with sectors that have traditionally been excluded and addressed new issues. We created a working group and leveraged resources to manage the process. Above all, we learned that ideas can come from anywhere and that, although not every idea can be implemented, they can all be discussed and documented. This is reflected in many indicators from international evaluation instruments. Those of us who work on these issues acknowledge that, even though it is nice to receive compliments, there is a lot of work ahead. The best of news is that we have more ideas with which to move forward.

We also acknowledge the fact that not every problem can be solved through open government. It is tempting to think that an open government can solve issues that have prevailed in our society for decades. However, there are certain matters that require discussion and controversy and will not necessarily happen in an open government context. We are not avoiding these topics, but our system is based on building consensus around proposals and on shared responsibility for deciding on the contents of the plans for our country.

It is therefore necessary to clearly define what we expect from the process, to establish the right premises and overall rules, and to meet our goals. It is also important to make feasible demands and recognize when certain demands cannot be accomplished. Each party has their corresponding roles and responsibilities, and together, we have a joint commitment. We are currently working on setting rules to institutionalize existing practices. We try to be precise. We avoid writing poetry and aim to establish concrete actions that will reflect the needs of those who participate in the creation of plans.

We have many other concerns that constitute our agenda. It is not always clear how these processes will be sustainable, particularly in terms of citizen participation. We must find the linkages between our work and other agendas, such as the Sustainable Development Goals. We sometimes believe that certain expectations around the reach of open government should be measured. Perhaps we need fewer grandiose statements and more action to differentiate this initiative from others. We need to acknowledge that open government forums will not always be the most glamorous, but they will be the ones where open public policies are created to strengthen our democracies.

We would like to share our experiences with you, but we are also full of questions. This is a complex time during which governments and civil society need to redefine their relationship. We do not have all the answers but we have common challenges. Corruption, new forms of citizenship, and the ability of our institutions to solve current issues – all present radical questions: What type of societies will we create? Will they be open, democratic, and prosperous? Will our institutions be able to address the challenges of a new era? These are major questions and, according to our experience, open government has so far proven to be among the best answers.

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