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Strengthening the partnership with parliaments on the openness agenda

María Baron|

Last week parliamentary reformers from over 50 countries came together on a sunny morning in Kyiv, in the hallowed portals of the Verkhovna Rada, to begin talking about the non-trivial issue of how to build citizens trust through legislative openness…

Last week parliamentary reformers from over 50 countries came together on a sunny morning in Kyiv, in the hallowed portals of the Verkhovna Rada, to begin talking about the non-trivial issue of how to build citizens trust through legislative openness. There is no denying that citizens trust in state institutions is at an all-time low – whether in the global north or south. Parliamentarians, including Speakers and Deputy speakers from a diverse set of countries – from Afghanistan to Kenya, Chile to Georgia – came together to discuss what’s working and where they needed to re-think ways to reach out to citizens.

Hosted by the Verkhovna Rada and the Legislative Openness Working Group of Open Government Partnership (OGP), along with partners like National Democratic Institute and UNDP, the meeting was more about collective brainstorming than posturing. Topics for discussion spanned questions including: how can parliaments be more open; how can they drive more ambitious reforms, including by engaging in the OGP process in their countries; what kind of technological and data-drive innovations have been tested and scaled; and where can they partner with governments in their country to build bridges with their citizenry.

Here are some key insights that surfaced from the discussions at the conference:

Engaging parliaments is critical to advancing the agenda for openness and citizen participation

Parliaments and Parliamentarians bring another dimension to the relationship between citizens and government. MPs were elected and directly and formally represent the citizens of each country distributed throughout its whole territory. So, their inclusion in OGP brings to the debate a new set of persons who have strong relationships with, and obligations to, their own communities and who can read and bring their concerns to the table.

In recent times, the role of open government takes on greater importance as it enables parliaments and governments to be more responsive and foster public trust. The story of OGP is the one  of individual reformers committed to the agenda of greater transparency and building greater trust with citizens. Equally important, parliaments also need to be engaged in the reform agenda. About 15% of all OGP commitments require legislative action, and without the involvement of parliaments these become very hard to implement. As OGP seeks to deepen the conversation around the open government agenda, it is evident that it needs to work with all institutions of the state. As directly elected, representative institutions, we see parliaments as a key ally in establishing a culture of openness and dialogue between the state and citizens.

Going beyond transparency and legislative openness, to participation and legislative engagement

There was a lot of sharing of what works. More parliaments had begun broadcasting their sessions on television. A few of them had begun publishing legislative data, including in open data format, on parliamentary websites. Others had begun working with tech and data scientists to create online tools to publish and share draft laws. But it is important to note, that the conversation went beyond just transparency. It was acknowledged that transparency alone does not help build more trust, but that citizens needed to be given spaces to participate in, and engage with the policymaking process. A few legislatures had begun experimenting with create fora for citizen deliberation on draft bills, for instance. An example was shared of the Mongolian parliament instituting deliberative polling for constitutional amendments, which mandates bringing in a representative sample of the population to vote on amendments. Initiatives like these are crucial for our countries’ because they ensure rules and policies that better address people’s problems as well as help prioritize which of them are more needed or more urgent. This trend is not only welcome, but essential for any conversation around a truly open and responsive state.

OGP can be a useful tool for parliamentary reformers to build citizen trust

So far, OGP has been largely associated with the government or the executive. But in several countries – we are seeing a growing movement of more parliaments engaging in the conversation around openness. Countries like Ukraine and Georgia have co-created open parliament action plans. Others like Greece and Kenya have open parliament commitments embedded in their national action plans. Still others like the Congress of Chile passed a watershed lobbying reform law, through its OGP National Action Plan, responding to effective civil society advocacy. The OGP Steering Committee recently approved a legislative engagement policy, which calls up parliaments to make commitments in the OGP National Action Plan. The policy recognizes parliaments as a key actor in this agenda, identifying a clear role for them and facilitate collaboration with the executive on the development and implementation of OGP National Action Plans. The policy mandates that parliaments can also contribute commitments as a separate chapter of the NAP keeping in line with the separation of powers. Like all OGP commitments, commitments made under the new policy will be subject to review by the Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) and must be developed consistent with the OGP co-creation guidelines.

For parliaments, OGP can provide the visibility and credibility to reforms through its IRM, and help maintain a constant channel for dialogue with civil society, thereby helping build trust and get greater buy-in from citizens.

If you’re a parliamentarian or work with parliamentarians, here are some ways to leverage OGP:

  • Reach out to the OGP Support Unit or Steering Committee to know more about OGP.
  • Join the Legislative Openness Working Group of the OGP to engage with other parliamentary reformers across the world working on the openness agenda.
  • Make ambitious legislative openness and engagement commitments in the National Action Plans, as suggested in OGP’s legislative engagement policy.
  • Exercise oversight over the government’s implementation of the OGP National Action Plan.
  • Use the expertise and research brought together in the country reports of the Independent Reporting Mechanism, to support your oversight and accountability role.
  • Participate in the peer-to-peer conversations and exchanges with other parliamentarians and open government reformers.

The Global Legislative Openness Conference certainly helped identify concrete opportunities for several of the parliamentarians to partner with OGP on their reform agenda. Now to convert these to action!

Open Government Partnership