The ‘P’ in Open Governance Partnership

Irina Rizmal, 12.3.2013.

PASOS AOG logo eng

The globalized world of the twenty-first century is becoming smaller by the day as interdependency and interconnectedness define our time. The feeling that citizens are part of their states, and part of their governments, inducing, or at least, having the right to influence, the policy making process, is stronger now than at any other time in history. Hence, people are demanding greater openness from governments.

Responding to these calls, the Open Government Partnership1 (OGP) poses as a multilateral initiative aiming to secure ’concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance’. It is a partnership between government institutions, civil society organizations, citizens, and other stakeholders, and its primary focus is making better governments which are, if not completely by the people, then, at least, truly for the people. However, in order for the Open Government framework to work, all stakeholders need to understand the mechanisms through which it operates and what role they can play in the process.

The Open Governance Partnership (OGP) utilizes the core tools of good governance: information, consultation and engagement, with the aim of providing greater openness in order to erect a more effective and transparent policy making process. Therefore, the first goal of the OGP is to increase the availability of information about government activities and enable citizen feedback in terms of knowledge, ideas and ability to provide oversight. This creates a win-win situation, in which citizens are included in the process of decision making through civic participation, which in return strengthens their trust in government. At the same time, the decisions reached by the government are vetted by public opinion and hence more responsive, effective and in line with the will of the citizens. This policy cycle does not mean the government relinquishes its responsibility to make decisions, but what it does do is invest more time and energy in civic inclusion throughout the cycle, which is what OGP is all about – information, consultation and active participation. This is why it plays an important role, especially in states in transition, which have experienced authoritative and secretive systems of rule, with government authorities sectioned off from society. Through OGP, a partnership of state institutions, civil society, citizens and other stakeholders allows the erection of open, transparent and responsible government, with active CSOs and citizens, allowing thus for the tenets of democratic consolidation to be established at an early stage of democratization.

What the Open Government Partnership further does is it swaps the traditional roles of judge and jury, replacing the Government, as the main judge of performance, with the citizen. It recognizes the ’autonomous capacity of citizens’ to discuss and generate policy options, paving the path for a more participatory democracy. However, one must be wary. Merely joining the OGP initiative does not automatically consolidate the beacons of Open Government. Instead, strong focus should, as Linda Frey, OGP Support Unit Executive Director explains, be maintained on the ’P’ in OGP, that is, on the notion of ’genuine partnership between governments and civil society’. This is where the project 'Advocacy for Open Government'2, on which Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies (CEAS) is a partner organization under the PASOS umbrella, and supported by the EU Directorate-General for Enlargement, comes in. Citizens, who in some countries lack the means to turn their discontent into real political pressure, are now included into this Partnership of Open Government and joined by different stakeholders, including the OGP’s non-governmental members who, through the OGP mechanisms, now have enough strength, as well as means, necessary to start making some noise about pressing issues.

What also needs to be understood is that another crucial goal at which OGP is aimed at - transparency, as Dr. Harvey Lewis explained, ’isn’t achieved simply by the act of publishing data’ in order to pose as transparent, but by putting this data to actual use – by concerned citizens and other stakeholders. This forms another vital part of the OGP whereby states signing up to the initiative commit, not just to pro-actively providing high-value information in formats that the public can easily understand and use, but also, perhaps even more importantly, to providing access to effective remedies when information or the corresponding records are improperly withheld, including through effective oversight of the recourse process. At the same time, citizens and other stakeholders need to engage themselves in the policy making process in order for the Partnership to be utilized. Only through such a mutually dependent mechanism will the final goal of OGP be reached – that of implementing the highest standards of professional integrity throughout state administrations and becoming what it truly should be – an Open Partnership with the citizens, for the citizens.

Therefore, in the words of the Open Government Declaration, the OGP Initiative should grow into a global culture of open government that ‘empowers and delivers for citizens, and advances the ideals of open and participatory 21st century development’. Evidence of the importance and meaning of the core values of Open Government Partnership can be found in the fact that it was first promoted officially in the form of an Open Government Initiative3 by President Obama who, in his campaigns, suggested that effective government can be achieved by opening the bureaucracy to direct public monitoring, engagement, and, where viable, collaboration. In a speech at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, in September 2011 he reaffirmed his call to countries to commit to promoting transparency, to fight corruption, energize civic engagement and leverage new technologies, strengthening the very foundations of freedom.

Believing thus, in the notion of achieving individual rights through collective action, the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies (CEAS) strongly supports the values of Open Government Partnership, as it contributes to the erection and preservation of a more open, and therefore safe, prosperous and cooperative order. This specific Advocacy project directly addresses the global objective of Open Government by providing both the skills for civil society and a framework for open government within which the partners in the Open Government Partnership can work to influence policy and decision-making processes at the local, national and regional level, contributing to the erection of a global system of transparency, responsibility and inclusion. This at the same time enables CEAS and other partner organizations to effectively carry out our primary role of CSOs – that of a watchdog. In this regard, we share President Obama’s view and the underlying message of the OGP Initiative, that the strongest foundation for human progress lies in open economies, open societies and in open governments, and we are proud to be part of such a mission.

_______________________________________

1The Open Government Partnership, launched on September 20, 2011, is a new multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. In the spirit of multi-stakeholder collaboration, OGP is overseen by a steering committee of governments and civil society organizations. To become a member of OGP, participating countries must embrace a high-level Open Government Declaration; deliver a country action plan developed with public consultation; and commit to independent reporting on their progress going forward.
http://www.opengovpartnership.org/about

2The Advocacy for Open Government Project, launched by PASOS and seven members of the network is a two-year project encouraging governments in the Western Balkans to become more transparent. The project “Advocacy for Open Government: Civil society agenda-setting and monitoring of country action plans” targets governments in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. The project is being funded by the European Union. Through a common methodology addressing a common framework for open government, the project will include expert training of civil society in the methodology for shaping Open Governance Partnership (OGP) commitments country by country, training of civil society organisations based in advocacy, monitoring, and policy analysis. The project will monitor the impact of government polices, and will develop commitments for governments to make under the OGP Initiative.
http://pasos.org/9356/pasos-kicks-off-advocacy-for-open-government-project/

3The Open Government Initiative was promoted officially President Obama who, on his first day in Office, signed the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, ushering in a new era of open and accountable government meant to bridge the gap between the American people and their government. On December 8, 2009, the White House issued an unprecedented Open Government Directive requiring federal agencies to take immediate, specific steps to achieve key milestones in transparency, participation, and collaboration.
http://www.whitehouse.gov/open/about