Points of View 28th October 2015

Can the OGP deliver the SDGs?

by Simon Burall

Simon is director of the public participation think tank and charity Involve and a member of the Open Government Network's steering group.

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) Summit kicked off yesterday with 1000 civil society activists from 94 countries attending the pre-summit Civil Society Organisation (CSO) Day. There were some genuinely rousing and moving speeches. We heard lots of powerful stories highlighting how the OGP is making a significant difference to the way member governments do business and, more importantly, to the lives of their citizens.

We also heard about significant threats to civic space, privacy and stories of on-going corruption. We certainly weren’t invited to enjoy the warm balm of open government goodness. And the fascinating discussions that followed showed that everyone was rolling their sleeves up and ready to engage seriously with the opportunities and challenges facing the OGP.

My contention in yesterday’s blog post that there really is something worthwhile at the heart of OGP was confirmed.

However, there is something nagging me about the conversations and speeches yesterday. In particular we heard how OGP is central to the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Given how much of the summit is given over to the role that the OGP can play in the SDGs my concerns may seem more than a little misplaced for some.

The SDGs are a huge agenda covering extreme poverty, sustainable consumption, energy and 14 other critical areas of global public policy. My nagging concern is that, unless we are careful with how we frame it, the OGP risks becoming something for everyone, and in the process nothing for anyone.

I worry that we will slip from exploring what role OGP can play in supporting the delivery of the SDGs, into saying that that OGP can deliver the SDGs. This is would be just plain wrong and put at risk what is best about the OGP.

For me this is why it is vital that the summit keeps a focus on how to deliver the principles to which member governments have signed-up. It is the way these principles, of openness, participation and integrity, play out through the collaborative development of national action plans which makes the OGP so special, where the magic lies. It is by supporting reformers who value the principles, inspiring others to work towards them and telling the powerful stories that OGP’s impact on the lives of citizens that we can ensure real reform.

OGP can’t deliver the SDGs and if it tries it will lose strategic focus, but it can help to create the conditions where they can flourish.