Peer Exchanges as a core element for pushing OGP reforms
“Civil servants really do an amazing job, they have difficult tasks to do. This agenda, open government, transparency, often meets a lot of resistance and it is difficult to overcome obstacles within administration. So bringing people together to show that there is a support network, discussing challenges together can be really really beneficial and can really help,“ says Helen Turek, OGP Program Officer. This is the reason why, last September, Bratislava, Slovakia became a center of peer exchange among OGP Points of Contact (POCs) from Central and Eastern Europe (Slovakia, Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, and Moldova) and the UK.
OGP is not built on the concept of competition – one country does not necessarily excel in every aspect of open governance. On the contrary – one country can be the leader of one aspect of the OGP agenda and serve as an example for other countries, but lack expertise in other areas. That is why “partnership” in OGP does not stand only for cooperation between various relevant stakeholders on the national level – it should also reflect mutual cooperation of countries within OGP, where countries share their individual expertise.
Reflecting on Helen´s initial thought, implementing OGP commitments in a resistant environment could be a very difficult task. One way to deal with lack of motivation or strength to pursue such changes is through regional peer exchange between OGP POCs and OGP leaders. Thanks to these exchanges, those state officials who are coordinating the implementation of action plans – sometimes in not such a friendly environment – might not feel as lonely in crisis situations, or demotivated that their huge efforts bring only small changes.
Some of these thoughts were on our minds before we decided to organize the first ever regional meeting of POCs from Central and Eastern Europe in Bratislava. Moreover, our meeting followed an international conference on beneficial ownership, which was jointly organized by the Ministry of Justice of the Slovak Republic, the Office of the Plenipotentiary of the Slovak Government, the OGP Support Unit, and the Fair Play Alliance. As a result, the participants of our regional exchange had the opportunity to learn more about beneficial ownership issues, which they could bring back home as well.
Thanks to intense cooperation with the OGP Support Unit, we were able to put together a strong agenda for the regional meeting, maximizing its potential to the fullest. Being faithful to the idea of participation, we also asked for and incorporated the ideas of participants, in order to reflect the priorities and needs of the region. On one very intensive day of our meeting, we discussed: the most ambitious commitments in the region; regional trends and challenges stemming as evaluated by the Independent Reporting Mechanism process (IRM); and the pros and cons of open contracting. Additionally, we learned more about new Participation and Co-creation Standards, and Multi-Stakeholder Forums from OGP Support Unit staff.
Among the most inspiring concepts was the publicly available e-register Ruti from Romania. The portal contains information about meetings of state institutions with various interest groups, aiming to increase transparency of decision making. Greece shared various interesting initiatives – three Greek regions (Western Macedonia, Central Greece, and the Municipality of Thessaloniki) are implementing OGP commitments in open data, participation, participatory budgeting, and e-government on the regional level. For the first time ever, the Greek parliament has entered into the OGP process. Greek state officials and civil society are also using the publicly available platform Asana for monitoring the implementation process.. In Slovakia, the third national OGP action plan addressed issues such as open source and open API, expanded the list of responsible actors, and for the first time, included recommendations on open data for all self-governing regions. Creating new or reforming existing multi-stakeholder forums, which would oversee the implementation and creation of action plans, remains a common challenge for the countries at the meeting.
Thanks to our expert guests – namely Tinatin Ninua from the OGP IRM, Helen Turek from the OGP Support Unit, Karolis Granickas from the Open Contracting Partnership, Gabriel Šípoš from Transparency International Slovakia, and Thom Townsend from the UK Cabinet office – the meeting was filled not only with lively discussions among the POCs, but enriched us all and opened up a space for us to see where we can move our OGP priorities and visions.
For us at the Office of the Plenipotentiary, such regional meetings are immensely important, and we think that it is important to continue with them – together with big conferences, these smaller exchanges open up dynamic and informal space for more detailed discussion about the various challenges of open governance.
So, who dares to follow our example and organize such an exchange this year? ☺ As an inspiration, have a look at the video from the CEE Peer Exchange!