The ambition threshold in the Americas
Since OGP’s inception, countries in the Americas region have had high energy and enthusiasm for the OGP process. Despite this incredible energy, the region is lagging in overall commitment ambition.
The latest IRM numbers show that only 12% of commitments in the region have been assessed as transformative, and overall, only 20% of all commitments in the 17 OGP partner countries are rated as complete. In broader terms, this graph shows where the region’s ambition and implementation lie in comparison with all other OGP countries:
Not only is the region below average compared to the rest of the OGP countries in terms of ambition, but implementation is falling behind as well. While in Africa ambition tends to be high and implementation low, as we noted in a recent blog, in the Americas ambition is generally low and implementation also falls short.
With 13 out 17 countries in the Americas working with or developing permanent dialogue mechanisms, it seems that the last several years have been all about process, while not so much about content. Looking towards the next 5 years, the focus is on how countries can go about delivering transformative commitments in action plans. How do countries in the Americas synergize the existing energetic support, active civil society engagement, and critical national issues to push for more ambitious reforms through OGP? The answer is not simple, and our team at the IRM is diving deeper into our reports to try to shed some light on this. As an initial approach, we looked at the 9 most recent reports from the Americas in the even-year calendar group of countries. Specifically, we tried to find common issues raised in the country-context section of the reports that would suggest some ideas of where the challenges to raise the ambition threshold lie.
Here are our top 5 findings:
In some countries (with some more troubled by this than others), the scope of action plans did not correspond to national challenges. In at least 4 of the reports, the country context section referred to corruption as a critical issue not being addressed in commitments. In these countries, it was noted that the gravity of the issues overshadowed any progress made on commitments. The rest of the reports pointed to the disconnect between commitments and public policy priorities in the country.
While only two reports highlighted the lack of political support as a main issue for the limited scope of action plans, it was noted that when implementing agencies did not have the resources to support their work, this caused disengagement with the process.
Particular to the countries in the Caribbean and Central America, 67% of commitments lacked the specificity in their language to clearly identify measurable activities, deliverables and/or milestones. This diminishes the ability of the IRM to assess the full potential of a commitment’s scope.
Several reports found that non-governmental stakeholders felt that commitments did not meet their priorities. Others found that the action plan did not have a needs-based approach to prioritize commitments that would have a direct effect on citizens’ lives.
71% of commitments in the region relate to the OGP value of access to information. Ambition is diminished when the theory of change in these commitments relies on assuming that the mere existence of more information will prompt or necessarily translate into more participation and accountability. Therefore, many commitments fall short of moving beyond positive but incremental steps.
So, how can OGP countries in the Americas move forward? We have a couple of ideas for them to consider, both in terms of process and substance.
- Attention needs to be paid to the actual drafting and wording of commitments. Improving specificity in the language used, and a clear theory of change between the problem, objective and activities or deliverables of commitments, will play a big role in assessing a commitment’s potential.
- Engage institutional stakeholders throughout the process, and not just as implementing bodies.
- Find the balance between non-governmental and governmental stakeholder priorities.
OGP should not be seen as an end in itself but as a vehicle for reform. There are a variety of critical challenges in the region, ranging from the removal of media restrictions on scientists in Canada, human rights violations in Mexico, corruption and impunity in Guatemala and Honduras, insecurity in El Salvador, and threats to environmental rights defenders in Colombia and Peru. National Action Plans could be an opportunity to address these core issues through collaboration between civil society and government.