WASHing Down Corruption: Using OGP to Deliver Water

Roughly a quarter of the Netherlands – what’s in a name? - lies below sea level. In the 13th century, as the population grew and land was increasingly drained for agriculture, managing water levels became a priority. At first, people just looked after themselves.  But they soon realized they had to work together and created the first local water boards to do so. Over time, these water boards became better organized: Official charters were adopted, council elections were held, and the rights to levy taxes and administer justice were enshrined in law. An early form of local government, highly decentralized and dependent on communal cooperation.

This is a powerful example of the potential of citizen engagement and citizen-centric governance.  Not merely a principled affair – though it certainly was that, too – but a pragmatic and effective response to the needs of the individual and the collective.

How does it work?   

Citizens look to their governments for the provision of effective services – a decent education, reliable healthcare, clean water and sanitation. Open public service reforms are based on the simple idea that public services designed not just for but with citizens - benefiting from their ideas, energy and scrutiny - will be services that work better for them.

Open governments can invite parents to report on the safety of schools, patients to share feedback on the quality of health services, people to monitor the quality of the tap water they drink, and residents to help design and prioritize infrastructure.

This is where OGP can help. By facilitating dialogue, platforms to take action, and a close monitoring of co-created action plans aimed at advancing open government at a national or local level, OGP works to place citizens at the heart of government.

What can open government do for water and sanitation?  

OGP’s tried and tested recipe offers civil society a seat at the table and allows reformers in government and civil society to collaborate and pool their expertise. Bringing together a diversity of actors under the auspices of OGP provides reformers on both sides with a meaningful opportunity to participate.  Where needed, it also offers the political cover to engage partners and people that might not have a voice in ‘traditional’ political processes.

  • With OGP, you will be able to leverage international agendas and standards for domestic action. Mexico’s co-creation process consisted of consultations around SDGs-related thematic areas, leveraging political will around Goal 5 - on natural resources and climate change - to secure a commitment on safe drinking water.
  • You will be one step closer to get this issue on the national agenda. Government buy-in means that civil society partners are brought into a domestic dialogue at the highest level to co-create, implement and monitor commitments. Chile’s commitment to disclose information on water rights and management is a small but significant first step towards transparency of a sector that is predominantly in private hands and resistant to change.  
  • You will be able to overcome institutional fragmentation to improve the efficiency and integrity of WASH services. Uruguay’s National Water Plan was the result of intensive consultations between government officials, service providers for drinking water and irrigation, and CSOs (in this case, NGOs and academics), setting out clear accountability provisions and securing buy-in from all relevant implementing agents.  

What can we learn from these stories?

These stories are proof that citizens can provide the eyes, ears and voices to help allocate budgets, govern access or monitor water quality. That governments do well to concern themselves with real issues and real outcomes. And that there is an enormous potential of connecting the governance and water communities. Both are global priorities – see the Sustainable Development Goals, for example – and both are strong and innovative sectors. Combining the principles and objectives of both can create powerful synergies. Joining forces makes sense.  

To date, over twenty OGP members have cemented a total of 35 water commitments in Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America. But while the ambition is there, the implementation of these commitments still lags too far behind.  We need more action on accountability, more room for citizen engagement. As the OGP community signals a growing interest in water and sanitation, the Partnership is looking to strengthen its network and expertise in this area.

We invite you to join this conversation and leverage the OGP platform for your priorities.

  • Test OGP out, both as a platform to advocate for reforms and help implement them.
  • We can work together to raise ambition and credible implementation for priorities across the water sector.  
  • We can work together on SDGs, where OGP can provide the delivery mechanism for the goals, especially Goals 16 and 6.
  • Join the Water and Open Government Community of Practice created by the World Resources Institute, Avina Foundation, SIWI, Water Integrity Network and OGP
Filed Under: OGP News