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SHARING GOOD OPEN GOVERNMENT IDEAS: A NEW EXPERIMENT

Linda Frey |

The Open Government Partnership has 60 participating countries, and the demand for open and accountable government continues to build around the world.  After a period of rapid growth, we’ve decided as an initiative to double down on delivery.  In other words, we need to make sure that OGP countries are setting ambitious targets and following through on their commitments.

For us, this means a couple of things.  First of all, quite literally, we are shifting OGP from a 1-year to a 2-year calendar as one way to promote even more ambitious commitments as part of OGP national action plans. That said, we fully recognize that setting ambitious new targets within complex bureaucracies is not easy, and domestic reformers are eager for more opportunities to learn from what others are doing.

OGP was founded in large part on the recognition that innovations in open government come from everywhere.  But as a rapidly growing start-up initiative, we have struggled to find practical ways to connect open government experts across countries and regions.  That’s why we were thrilled when several of our partner organizations — at the same time, but unbeknownst to each other! — pitched the idea of setting up thematic working groups within OGP.

Of course, there are many different ways OGP could approach this, and we struggled at first with how systematic we should be. Given the extremely small size of OGP’s Support Unit, most of us quickly concluded that we should be willing to experiment in this initial stage, as long as we also commit to learn from our mistakes!  We are therefore being opportunistic in identifying a small number of working groups to pilot in 2013, with the goal of refining the concept and potentially adding additional groups in the future.

We recognize that a pilot like this can lead to many questions.  Since we’re learning by doing, we don’t yet have all the answers, but hopefully this blog will help explain some of the basics.

What is the ultimate goal of the working groups?  Simply put, it is to support the creation and effective implementation of more ambitious open government commitments as part of OGP national action plans.

What will the groups do?  The working groups should provide practical ways for participants to share experiences, expertise, and lessons learned, as well as identify opportunities for targeted technical assistance and/or peer exchange. Each group will convene an initial in-person meeting at the OGP Annual Summit in London in October. At these open meetings, each working group will seek consensus on priority areas of engagement. Thereafter, participants are expected to actively collaborate through in-person and virtual sessions.

Who will be involved?  The working groups will team clusters of governments actively implementing or interested in pursuing OGP commitments in a particular issue area with leading civil society experts. Each group will be led by one government anchor and one civil society anchor that will jointly coordinate the group’s work and sustain opportunities for learning. Participation is open to all governments and civil society organizations involved in OGP.

Which working groups currently exist?  At the moment, there are five potential working groups ‘in the pipeline’ focused on: fiscal openness, open data, open parliaments, extractive industry transparency, and access to information. The key factor in identifying thematic areas for the pilot phase has been the initiative taken by partners willing to commit time and resources to support this effort.  Of course, we also prioritized topic areas where many OGP countries are interested in raising the bar.

Will there be others?  We hope so! Depending on the success of the pilot phase, we will work with the OGP Steering Committee to determine if the number and scope of working groups should be expanded in the future.

Over the next few months, we’ll do our best to inform you about ways of getting involved.  Stay tuned to learn more about webinars that explain each working group in greater detail and our plans for the October Summit (you can pre-register here).

Being a pilot initiative, there will be many opportunities to learn as we go.  Please don’t hesitate to comment below or to contact us directly with any ideas on how we can improve the working group concept and ensure active participation.