News 6th December 2012

A Game of Two Halves: Better engagement on open government | Alan Hudson, ONE

by Guest

On the 5th December 2012, the UK Government – in its role as co-chair of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) – organised a Peer Exchange meeting for representatives of participating countries. The opening panel saw government and civil society representatives from Indonesia (the other co-chair of OGP), Mexico, Tanzania and the UK share their stories about the process of developing National Action Plans.

Providing a UK perspective, I explained that while the original National Action Plan and the consultation process that led up to it was somewhat underwhelming, in recent months there had been a highly collaborative, fruitful and open process of engagement between government and civil society. The process, as I described, has centred on the production and discussion of the UK co-chair’s vision for the OGP as a whole, UK civil society’s vision for OGP as a whole, and – most recently – working together, through weekly meetings, to co-create a revised National Action Plan.

To improve the dialogue between government and civil society required that both “sides” play their part, working to identify shared goals, communicating clearly to develop the trust that is needed to make the relationship work and setting out shared principles of open policy-making. The UK’s OGP vision has, we believe, improved as a result of dialogue with civil society. And the National Action Plan – moving beyond open data, acknowledging that participation brings democratic dividends as well as prosperity payoffs, and paying attention to the global as well as national dimensions of open government – has certainly moved in the right direction. We trust that our Government counterparts would agree?

The country context makes a difference to how the Open Government Partnership plays out. In Mexico, the change of government poses challenges and provides opportunities for the evolution of open government. In Indonesia, the emphasis on open data seen in the US and UK is less pronounced – other issues are higher priority. And in Tanzania, with severe and pressing human development needs, there is a clear and welcome focus on what open government can deliver in terms of specific sectors – health, education and water. As President Kikwete put it at the OGP Plenary in Brasilia, in Tanzania, open government is about a woman being able to give birth safely (Video, after 39 minutes, 30 seconds; Text).

For the UK, a key feature of the context is the fact that the UK is not only co-chair of OGP in 2013, but also has the Presidency of the G8 and has its Prime Minister co-chairing the UN High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Framework, along with fellow open government leaders, President Yudhoyono of Indonesia, and President Sirleaf of Liberia. We at ONE, with a focus on poverty in Africa, are working hard to ensure that a golden thread of transparency, participation and accountability is woven through each of these political opportunities, with a focus always on how the principles of open government can help to address specific challenges that people face in accessing the services that they need. We look forward to working with other members of the UK Civil Society Network on OGP, the UK Government and others to make OGP a success in the UK and globally, in 2013 and beyond.

Alan Hudson, ONE