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Open Response + Open Recovery: Conversations with Europe’s Open Gov Community

Respuesta abierta + Recuperación abierta: Conversaciones con la comunidad de gobierno abierto de Europa

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Helen Turek|

On June 25th, around 90 reformers from Europe’s OGP community convened for the online discussion ‘Open Response + Open Recovery in Europe: What’s Next?’. The discussion focused on how the community has been using the OGP platform during the pandemic and the impact on civic space. This is what we heard.

 

Collaboration is key to success

During the event, lightning talks were given by Bojana Selaković, Program Director of Civic Initiatives, Vasyl Zadvornyy, CEO of ProZorro, Niklas Kramer, Senior Policy Advisor at the Federal Ministry of Health of Germany, and Sanjay Pradhan, CEO of OGP. A common thread throughout all of these talks was the importance of citizen and civil society collaboration to deliver solutions and build trust during the pandemic, from providing community support and legal assistance, to civic monitoring of emergency procurement contracts, to developing a secure, open source contact tracing app.

Civil society is a crucial player

Our conversation clearly showed that the pandemic cannot be tackled by governments alone. Civil society, activists, journalists and ordinary citizens have played a critical role in responding to COVID-19. Collaboration among all these different actors has strengthened in many countries during the pandemic, with a real sense of solidarity emerging among citizens in order to help those most in need. In Bojana Selaković’s lightning talk, we learned how Serbian civil society came together to support vulnerable groups and deliver legal aid during the pandemic. 

That said, the pandemic is posing a real challenge for civil society sustainability. Donors, international organisations and governments must continue to provide space and funding for civil society organisations to continue their activities.

 

Digital concerns

Public concern about privacy and surveillance has grown under the pandemic. As we heard from Niklas Kramer, it is imperative that governments work together with civil society and citizens when building track and tracing tools and place transparency and accountability at the center of  these efforts to ensure that citizens’ right to privacy is not eroded under these exceptional circumstances.

From schooling and conferences, to family reunions and Zoom weddings, many of our lives have become digital. But this is simply not the case for everyone. Not all children have access to sufficient high-speed internet to carry out their studies. Many elderly citizens are not well-connected, particularly in rural areas. The digital transition under the pandemic risks leaving some people behind and needs to be addressed quickly by governments. Furthermore, all members of society, including governments, need more education and training on digital safety and security.

See the privacy protections module from OGP’s Guide to Open Gov and the Coronavirus and Taking the OGP Process Online

 

Open gov rollbacks

Europe has seen some significant open gov rollbacks under COVID-19. Eight European OGP members have documented suspensions or alterations to their regular right to information procedures. When it comes to freedom of assembly, more than 3 in 4 OGP countries in Europe imposed measures during the pandemic that prevented people from meeting others outside of their household unless strictly necessary. This is nearly double the rate of other regions, and in some countries, worryingly, there are no time limits for these restrictions. Furthermore,  judicial oversight has been severely affected in at least two countries from the region. Governments need to ensure that any restrictions or limits used to curb the pandemic are proportional, transparent and time-bound.

For more recommendations, see the civic space module from OGP’s Guide to Open Gov and the Coronavirus.

 

OGP in times of crisis

OGP remains an important platform for many countries to continue dialogue between government and civil society during the pandemic and an avenue to make concrete commitments related to the response to COVID-19. Even where action plan co-creation processes have slowed down or paused, using multi-stakeholder forums and the open government community as a means to discuss the response to the pandemic has been crucial. 

However, this is not the case in all countries. In some places OGP has lost momentum. Governments and civil society should sustain the OGP process through multi-stakeholder dialogue, and work with the OGP Support Unit and Steering Committee to get processes back on track.

 

Road to recovery

As Europe begins to slowly open up again and look towards recovery, governments must adopt  an open approach and open communication about next steps in order to build trust in a society that has been profoundly affected by the events of the last months. For example, when governments roll out stimulus packages, the spending must be transparent, accountable and open to public scrutiny. Some participants at the discussion suggested a need to explore a global transparency standard for these stimulus packages.

For more information, check the fiscal openness module of the Guide to Open Gov and the Coronavirus.

In sum, our conversation highlighted the need for an open approach to build mutual trust between governments and citizens and to develop effective solutions to address the coronavirus, and how OGP can be used as a platform to deliver on these.

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