Key Takeaways from the Open Government Partnership’s 2023 Global Summit in Tallin, Estonia
I‘ve been providing support to the UK Open Government Network for almost half a year now. And yet, such is the breadth of open government, that I still feel like a relative newcomer.
Attending the Open Government Partnership (OGP)’s 2023 Global Summit changed this, so I’m keen to share what I discovered.
The summit brought together Heads of State, civil society, and policy makers from across the world to discuss within this the potential of technology to make governance and policy-making more transparent and accountable, and the preservation of democracy.
Below, I share my key insights from the summit, on what supports democracy and Open Government to thrive.
Particularly, the importance of:
Transparency & Accountability
Governments must be held accountable. This is an essential part of a democratic system. They hold an immense amount of power over the policies that affect all levels of citizens’ lives – locally, nationally, and globally.
Transparency is an important component of accountability. If governments don’t work transparently, citizens don’t have the knowledge and understanding of the actions of those in power, which in turn makes it harder to hold them to account. This has the potential to breed corruption.
In the opening plenary, I was struck by Pedro Lopes – Cabo Verde’s Secretary of State for the Digital Economy’s simple but important point on digital governance. That data belongs to the people, not government – embedding the importance of data protection and citizens’ rights to access information from the get go.
Operating in a transparent and accountable way is not just protective, it’s also mutually beneficial. Not only does it ensure that those in power work to the best interest of the people they serve, but it also shows integrity, which can build citizens’ trust and confidence in leadership.
Public engagement and deliberation
Having facilitated discussions at public dialogue and deliberation events, I have seen the power of consulting citizens on the policies and services that affect their lives. I was pleased, therefore, to see the summit’s emphasis on the importance of public engagement as a core aspect of Open Government.
Public participation was promoted as an important tool to inform and empower citizens, build trust, and ensure government decisions on policy and service development are informed by citizens’ lived experience. It works to prevent governments from making decisions in isolation and moves to collaborative decision making alongside its citizens. However, there is still work to do to bring the practice into the mainstream and ensure effective public engagement that truly embeds citizens’ needs, concerns and ideas. Kai Klandorf – Executive Director of the Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organizations – made the point that citizen involvement and engagement is often brought in at the end point of policy making. She highlighted the importance of governments co-creating and co-producing alongside citizens at every stage of policy making and service delivery, from start to finish.
Accessibility & Inclusion
Inclusion was presented as a key theme across summit discussions and as an integral part of Open Government.
Discussions spoke of the need for governments to serve and represent all citizens, they must recognise that a ‘one size fits all’ approach won’t work when it comes to inclusive policy and initiatives. They highlighted that different communities have their own specific needs and this must be considered across all levels of policy making and service development. Information and discussions must be accessible for anyone who wants to be involved, and particular consideration should be given to marginalised groups who have traditionally faced barriers to access and involvement. It’s also important to remember that each environment and community has its own specific and ever-evolving needs, and it’s important to adapt learning accordingly.
Having previously worked in the field of accessibility, it was encouraging to see the OGP embrace these discussions. There is still a lot of work to do in this area, however introducing these conversations to the Open Government space felt like an important step.
On inclusion, I was struck by discussions held by Pollicy and Open Heroines on the women and LGBTQ+ communities facing heightened online violence and harassment, leading to silencing and withdrawal from participation in civic spaces and public office. I learnt that a woman faces online harassment every second (a pre-Covid statistic, meaning this is likely to have increased) and many women worldwide don’t always know where to turn for support. Whilst this was confronting to hear, it was encouraging to hear of the work being done to ensure that women and LGBTQ+ people are part of the table, including increasing investment in and awareness of support, mainstreaming safeguarding, and bringing young people into the conversation, to work towards generational change.
A key message throughout discussions was the importance of not being scared to fail, and in fact embracing, expecting and accepting failure. The nature of Open Government is that it pushes for continual improvement, innovation and change. This often means taking risks and venturing into situations outside of your comfort zone and knowledge base. You are therefore likely to stumble and face barriers, and maybe you won’t achieve your initial goals. However, with failure comes learning. If you embrace and apply these learnings, future work can benefit from your past ‘failures’.
My overall takeaway from the summit was the importance of international collaboration and resource sharing across the Open Government space. In the context of continually evolving threats to democracy worldwide, collaboration is essential to build strength in numbers and facilitate knowledge sharing, enabling insights and solutions to develop across local, national and international initiatives.
From a personal perspective, given the continued impact of the global Covid pandemic, it’s still rare to have the opportunity to collaborate in-person and easy to forget the importance of connecting on this human level. I truly valued the opportunity to do so with the many inspiring people working to preserve and further democracy across the globe.
Photo credit: Open Government Partnership