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Reflections on the 2016 OGP Civil Society Leaders’ Workshop

Maureen Kariuki|

Prepared February 2016

 

Every year the Civil Society Engagement (CSE) team of the OGP Support Unit puts together a peer exchange workshop for civil society leaders engaged on the OGP. This year, the CSE team welcomed 18 civil society leaders to the Hague on the 21st and the 22nd of January 2016.

The purpose of this year’s workshop was to empower these civil society leaders to steer meaningful and impactful engagement by CSOs in OGP processes at the national level. Following an eventful 2015 and looking forward to an even more exciting 2016, the idea was to start with a collective understanding of the bigger picture of how OGP participating countries are performing; identify key CSO opportunities and challenges in effectively engaging in OGP processes nationally; and from there explore solutions that would equip participants with knowledge, skills and tactics to enable them be effective in the development of robust National Action Plans, implementation and monitoring of commitments.

Why was this year’s workshop different?

This year’s workshop was a bit different from the two before it. It was designed to give much more time for sharing of experiences and approaches to engagement and was less focused on creating concrete strategies and action points to take home. Feedback from the participants was that this was appreciated and that, in similar OGP workshops and events, more time and space should be dedicated to peers sharing experiences with each other.

Another unique feature of this year’s workshop was having civil society members of the OGP Steering Committee present and active in the workshop, not only in their capacity as lead national actors but as Steering Committee members. One of key functions of the CSE team is to act as a listening post for civil society – conveying what it hears from civil society to the rest of the Support Unit and to the civil society members of the Steering Committee. The workshop enabled civil society to speak directly to Mukelani Dimba and Suneeta Kaimal, both of whom are active in representing civil society on the OGP Steering Committee, and articulated three main issues:

  1. the need of to be more visible and approachable in their representation of global civil society;
  2. the need to push more on the “sticks”  of OGP and leverage them more effectively in OGP participating countries acting contrary to OGP guidelines, principles and values; and
  3. the need to change slightly the narrative when it comes to how the OGP is doing; less celebratory about the growing numbers of OGP participating countries and more grounded in the realities of the participating countries as communicated by civil society.

Steering Committee members present were in agreement with this feedback and keen to push for the need to start seeing positive change at scale to be convinced that governments are not taking civil society and their citizenry for a ride when it comes to the OGP.

What were the key issue that emerged from the workshop?

Open justice, open budgets, citizen engagement, civic education/open education resources and open data/infrastructure are some of the key themes that came out strongly as priority issues for participants in the coming years. These themes all linked to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a major focus for the OGP in 2016 and in the years to follow.Though the SDGs were not identified explicitly as the vehicle to deliver on these priority issues, and most participants were not part of (inter)national SDG discussions, the SDGs were nonetheless identified as a helpful frame or platform to advocate for priority issues at this point.

Participants were also clear, however, that a number of challenges existed at the national level that influenced their ability to use the OGP as a platform to deliver on their priorities. They included:

  • Sustaining collaboration with government and amongst civil society, and especially building forums for ongoing dialogue that truly involves civil society as an equal actor;
  • Creating transformative, ambitious action plans covering a broader set of priorities (for example impunity in Latin America);
  • General civil society challenges including diversity, capacity, funding and inclusive participation.

What is next?

In general, however, the sense was that the OGP is on the right track with some of the things it is pushing (e.g. better guidelines, the OGP response policy); that national processes are improving; but that there is still a world to win on especially ambitious Action Plans covering a broader set of issues and on improving the quality and depth of the consultation. We need to keep in mind that OGP is not a technical exercise but it’s strength depends on personal relationships and political space.

The CSE team is grateful for the insights of the great set of politically savvy, truly committed and inspiring national leaders that participated in this year’s peer exchange workshop and is looking forward to meeting and learning from them even more next year! 

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