Where Open Meets Contracting
The open government movement has a very real challenge: ensuring that open government efforts continue to positively transform the lives of citizens around the world. In the pursuit of true, sustainable impact from openness, contracting is a key component. Open Contracting – the collaborative effort focused on enhanced disclosure and participation around contracting processes – must be a cornerstone of open government. At the first global meeting of Open Contracting, which took place last week in Johannesburg, South Africa, participants offered compelling insights about the common DNA defining the different elements in the open government ecosystem, the strategic questions that open government and open contracting must explore, and the path towards openness that can result in tangible improvements in citizens’ daily lives.
Contracting has emerged as an essential part of open government. Quite simply: every time government has to fulfill one of its responsibilities, every time government delivers a service, it must do so through contracts. Building roads requires contracts. Providing medicines to citizens requires contracts. Building public schools requires contracts. Developing natural resources requires contracts. Contracting is at the core of how government conducts its business. At a time of deep financial constraints, public resources must be spent as effectively as possible to ensure that better services are delivered to all, especially those with lower incomes. Problems stemming from corruption and opaque contracting processes are pervasive. They transcend national borders and affect all sectors of society. These problems directly impact the everyday lives of millions of citizens around the world and compromise opportunities for development. These kinds of entrenched problems require solutions closely alligned to the defining principles – the DNA – at the core of the open government ecosystem: 1) Enhanced disclosure and more open and accessible data, 2) Effective mechanisms for accountability and 3) Increased participation and citizen engagement.
It is only through collective action and collaborative innovation that we can make progress in opening up contracting, and by doing so, safeguarding public resources and ensuring these resources are used to deliver services to citizens.
During the first global meeting of Open Contracting, I moderated a conversation about the key questions that open government – and open contracting as a crucial component of open government – must explore. In a conversation with Chris Albon (Frontline SMS), Daniel Clark (AmericaSpeaks / Global Voices), Claire Provost (The Guardian), Rueben Lifuka (Transparency International) and John Wonderlich (Sunlight Foundation), the following relevant questions were brought forth:
- How can we be smarter about disclosure? Whether contract-related data or any other kind of data, how can we avoid data dumps and instead focus on disclosure that makes useful information more accessible to a wide range of stakeholders?
- How can Open Contracting support commitments in OGP national action plans that focus on enhanced disclosure and monitoring of public contracts?
- How can we harness the power of technology, not just to connect with citizens, but to truly engage them in policy-making and decision-making processes?
- How can we ensure that the different components of the open government ecosystem are well connected and develop in a coordinated manner, supporting the full ecosystem?
- How can we build the capacity of a wide range of actors in order to hold government accountable?
- How can we not only open doors, but ensure stakeholderes have the ability to cross through them?
The answers to some of these questions are complex, and some of those answers have already been explored more than others. Nonetheless, they all require collective thinking. As such, we invite you to connect to Open Contracting by visiting the website, and participating in the conversation via twitter. We look forward to your thoughts on how to best advance this effort, how to connect it more closely to OGP action plans, and ultimately, how we can work together to ensure public resources benefit us all.
Editor’s note: Readers, do you have answers to Felipe Estefan’s questions or a response to his post on Open Contracting? Please share your thoughts in the comments area, below, or consider submitting a post of your own.