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Reflections on an Unprecedented Year

Reflecciones en un año sin precedentes

SC Meeting Berlin 2020
Robin HodessandCarolina Cornejo|

September is often a time for new beginnings, as it marks a change in season, and we all begin to feel the calendar year drawing to a close. For the OGP Steering Committee co-chairs, it is also a time for closure and reflection. In this pandemic year, full of pain for so many, we’ve had the honor of working together across sectors and continents to support the open government cause. As we look back on 2020 and indeed look forward to the multi-stakeholder movement around us, we wanted to take stock of what’s happened across the Partnership and in the name of open government over the past twelve months.

It’s fair to say that our year as co-chairs involved both change and unpredictability. First, a new government was elected in Argentina. The Cabinet Office not only reaffirmed its commitment to the OGP co-chair mandate, but also demonstrated open government is a movement that delivers for citizens and is not specific to political colors or party flags. Then there was what no one could have foreseen: the spread of COVID-19 in early 2020.

When the pandemic changed all our lives, OGP was able to pivot quickly to prove that the values of open government – transparency, accountability, participation and inclusion – are essential in times of crisis and uncertainty. As OGP co-chairs, we oversaw the launch of the Open Response + Open Recovery campaign that initially crowdsourced open government actions being taken across the globe. Our aim was to encourage open government approaches to the pandemic, when moving from response to recovery. It was also for the OGP community to learn from each other and begin to establish best practices, which we captured and shared in an open government guide.  

We also worked with many partners to host a series of online thematic events and regional dialogues as part of a digital forum that reached 1,300 people in over 93 countries. The campaign helped foster actions in more than 30 countries. For example, Integrity Watch Afghanistan is using community-based monitoring and social audits to oversee compliance with COVID-19 screening procedures, availability of PPE equipment, necessary drugs, medical supplies and ventilators in health centres across 13 provinces in the country.  In Kenya, government and civil society are using the OGP co-creation process to prioritize areas impacted by COVID-19, including beneficial ownership transparency, open contracting, access to justice, and civic space.

Digital and data governance had been among our early priorities. During the pandemic, many themes we saw as key to the Partnership, such as building digital ecosystems that protect citizens’ rights and democratic institutions or tackling corruption to ensure a fair and just distribution of resources, remained front and centre. And governments responded to the challenge. From Switzerland and the Basque Country to Colombia and Argentina opening up epidemiological data to Korea reporting on medical supplies and testing. Prior to the pandemic, Mexico committed to creating regulations to protect citizens’ privacy online and limit government access to personal data. Sierra Leone made a commitment in its third action plan to improve transparency of public funding received by CSOs working in post-Ebola recovery efforts. Reporting was public and in an open data format.

Even while COVID-19 fundamentally changed how we and others have worked across the open government community, we were still able to move important pieces of work forward as OGP entered its 10th year. 

Local engagement in the open government community was also a priority, as we oversaw the expansion of OGP Local and took important steps to strengthen the links between national and local actions plans as well as build a new knowledge base to scale reforms. The new local strategy will bring more local governments into the open government movement. OGP received more than 170 applications from 35 countries. 

As co-chairs, we also developed the Leaders Network program, a new way to invigorate thematic leadership, scale best practices and facilitate learning on the many thematic areas that have now emerged across open government action plans. The Leaders Network is also an important mechanism to acknowledge that leadership and expertise on open government themes among government and civil society collaboration also exists outside formal OGP governance structures, such as the Steering Committee. We look forward to introducing the first Leaders Network cohort to the OGP community in the coming weeks.

No matter how one looks at it, this year brought with it a wave of challenges. In responding to them as an open government community, we’ve remained as concerned as ever with government restrictions on civic space. Specific, pandemic-related rules that restrict freedoms to citizens must be limited in time. Overall, and over time, open government means defending democracy and valuing and including the voices of all citizens. OGP must be prepared to defend its core values when necessary, and this year the Steering Committee approved a new Rapid Response Protocol to provide OGP with the tools to respond swiftly to emerging situations in which open government values are in jeopardy. 

Co-chairing OGP was an honor, but we are part of a continuum: We are confident that the Government of the Republic of Korea and María Baron, Global Executive Director of Directorio Legislativo, will continue the vital work of open government with enthusiasm and commitment. 

In the words of the U.S. American civic rights and gender-busting heroine, the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” The path to open government requires us to take those steps. Today, together, we acknowledge and thank those who have joined us on this journey. It’s one that promises a better future, by meeting people’s needs, and offering the quality of government – transparent, accountable, participatory, inclusive and just – that all citizens deserve.

 

Robin Hodess, Director of Governance & Transparency, The B Team

Carolina Cornejo, Director of Open Government, Secretariat of Public Innovation, Office of the Chief of Cabinet of Ministers of Argentina

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