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Using OGP action plans for better outcomes in public service delivery

Mukelani Dimba|

The new year brings new opportunities for the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and our 90-plus local and national participants. 76 of those participants will be co-creating new action plans with civil society this year, each with its own unique country context, set of priorities, and potential challenges. This is a profound opportunity for both citizens and government to dramatically and directly improve people’s quality of life.

I am calling on all those involved – from civil society, government, the private sector, and elsewhere – to make strong commitments to better outcomes in public service delivery, particularly in critical areas of health, education, housing, water, and sanitation.

Public service delivery is where the rubber hits the road. In many countries – particularly those on the lower end of the Human Development Index – public services might be the only interaction a citizen ever has with the government. Their quality – or lack thereof –  has a real and tangible impact: it determines whether children can get an education, whether people have access to lifesaving treatments, whether communities can live in safe homes and enjoy clean and safe environments.     

We certainly have some good stories from OGP governments that are exploring innovative ways of doing this.  In Malawi, the government and the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative (CoST) set up a toll-free number to log details of infrastructure projects, such as roads and schools, when they have concerns about its delivery. The service covers everything from delays in project commencement and changes in project proposals to failures in safety requirements. This number is a lifeline for citizens to protect the value and impact of the taxes they pay, making sure that the services they’re promised are delivered efficiently and effectively in return.  CoST’s first assurance report resulted in the suspension and cancellation of wasteful or mismanaged infrastructure projects, saving over $18 million (.5% GDP) in public funds.

In Uruguay, the ATuServicio portal allows citizens to rate the quality of healthcare received and their healthcare providers, allowing citizens to make informed decisions about their health and wellness.  

In the Philippines, the Department of Education partnered with the ‘Check My School’ initiative (CMS) to identify shortcomings in schools and to develop resourceful, community-based solutions.  Drawing on the ears and eyes of thousands of community volunteers, CMS has quite literally given students a roof over their heads.  It has also improved pupil-teacher ratios, secured textbooks, and ensured greater accountability of funding.   

In other words: change is possible.  Despite these inspirational initiatives, there are still too few public service delivery commitments in OGP action plans. To date, only 9% of Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM)-assessed commitments are relevant to public service delivery, and only 11 percent of those have potentially transformative impact: that is, the power to improve both how government works and the lives of citizens. This must change.

Looking ahead, we are inviting OGP countries and our partners to:

  • Focus on commitments that showcase more transparency in decision-making, particularly around allocation of resources and development of programs for underserved communities;
  • Give citizens concrete opportunities to participate in decision-making around programs and budgets related to the delivery of public services;
  • Promote opportunities that allow citizens to not only participate in decision-making, but get involved in the evaluation of services rendered and empower them to provide feedback.

Action plans that include potentially transformative public service delivery commitments will have outsized effects on citizens. As such, participating governments should take pains to focus on inclusion of marginalized and vulnerable groups in the creation of these and all other commitments. To truly impact the people – to get to where citizens see government truly working for them – governments must include the marginalized and vulnerable from the very beginning. Involving indigenous groups, the LGBTQI+ community, people with disabilities, and the elderly reaps both trust and benefits for large swathes of the citizenry that can feel disenfranchised and left behind.

I call on this year’s substantial cohort of OGP participants – national and local – co-creating action plans to draft transformative commitments or to scale up existing work on public service delivery.  We should demand nothing short of excellence when it comes to our schools and health care, and nothing short of safe and reliable public infrastructure.  But we should equally recognise that it’s a joint effort, and that each of us has a contribution to make.  Let’s support governments that are serious about reform.  Let’s share our ideas, lend our voices, speak up for those who can’t.  Let’s vote.  Let’s volunteer.  And – last, but certainly not least – let’s get co-creating.  

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