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The Road to Genuine Co-Creation: Insights from Argentina

El camino hacia la cocreación genuina: perspectivas desde Argentina

Inés Pousadela |

When Argentina first joined the Open Government Partnership in 2012, the concept of open government was alien to most potential stakeholders, and there was a lack of trust between government and civil society. Argentina’s first action plan focused more on e-government and less on opening government for public participation and bringing officials to account. Minimal consultation informed its design and civil society did not see their perspectives accurately reflected in the resulting action plan.

The second plan suffered the effects of conflict between an outgoing government and a civil society that felt its priorities were – again – not adequately addressed. With a new government in place, outreach and consultation improved incrementally in the run-up to the third action plan.

Seven years after joining OGP, Argentina is now an incoming co-chair of the partnership and is halfway into implementing its third action plan. Both in terms of process and content, Argentina’s current action plan is a galaxy away from its predecessors, in that it holds the promise of actually opening some areas of government to public participation and scrutiny. The improved quality of the plan is a reflection of a better-designed co-creation process, one that succeeded in moving away from formal consultation as a box-ticking exercise and towards sustained collaboration to shape the country’s open government  priorities.

In fact, Argentina’s co-creation mechanisms were themselves the product of co-creation – that is, the long-term product of collaboration and negotiation as well as tension, trial-and-error and adjustments by all the parties involved. Initially, the design of the process involved no more than a few public officials in specialized government agencies as well as specialized civil society organizations. This helped to set the stage for a well-planned and participatory co-creation process.

After deciding on the process, co-creation of the third action plan unfolded in several stages. The Open Government Coordination, a unit within the then-Ministry, now State Secretary of Modernization, led an internal (among civil servants) and external (among the wider citizenry) awareness process at both the national and provincial levels. A public online consultation portal set up for gathering ideas collected more than 200 proposals. Two dozen thematic dialogue events were then held around the reviewed proposals, including government and civil society representatives alongside individual citizens. Subnational governments held similar dialogue events at the local and provincial levels, resulting in the introduction of 11 subnational commitments into the action plan. Lastly, the public participated through online consultations around the commitments that came out of the dialogues; Open Government Coordination staff responded to all comments from the public and made sure they were incorporated into the final text of the action plan.

The final pillar holding the co-creation and implementation monitoring architecture together is the Multi-Stakeholder Forum (Mesa Nacional de Gobierno Abierto), based on parity between government and democratically-elected civil society representatives. Although still not the high-level body with decision-making capacity that civil society wishes it to be, devoting time to setting it up conferred it with much of the legitimacy it now needs to keep going.

That said, challenges remain. First, inclusion seemed to lead to the surfacing of more wide-ranging issues, resulting in 44 commitments with varying levels of ambition. For robust, yet succinct action plans, a prioritization process during co-creation should help determine which activities or reforms are the most important to implement under the OGP framework. Second, there is a hunger for tangible results to prove the value of open government to regular citizens interested in better public service delivery.

Additionally, going forward, it will be key to involve local and provincial stakeholders, urban and rural alike, to make sure that their priorities are reflected in national-level commitments, and not just in subnational ones.

Today an unprecedented number of actors in both the government and civil society of Argentina are willing to put open government principles into practice, and the structures are in place to help them do so. There is no going back to a past in which civil society actors had to prove over and over why they should have a say. The ethos of co-creation is here to stay.

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