By Robin Hodess, Director of Governance & Transparency at The B Team and Co-Chair of the OGP Steering Committee
For more than two decades, my professional journey has been one dedicated to helping build more open, inclusive, and accountable governments with strong institutions that ensure the wellbeing of people. For the coming year, I am excited and humbled to continue this pursuit as Co-Chair of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Steering Committee, alongside the Government of Argentina.
Our joint leadership role will be one of promoting continuity in the Partnership. We will also focus on leveraging the unique potential of OGP to spark positive change even in these challenging times for democracy. Right now, a record number of people have taken to the streets to protest changes in government services, such as subway fare hikes in Chile, and a range of political scandals, from Romania to South Korea. We owe it to people everywhere to support their engagement and to help government more ably serve the needs of all people.
These protests represent a continuing distrust of government and a deepening of divides between government and the people it serves. Our goal as co-chairs is to use the open government process to bring citizens back into government decision-making and to make government account for its policies and practices, which have such profound impact on people’s daily lives.
To accomplish this goal we will continue our work to extend democracy beyond the ballot box. We will support the hard work that takes place across the Partnership to create and implement ambitious action plans — and identify leaders whose teams in government and civil society are making positive change happen. We will continue to raise ambition so that all citizens, including those traditionally underrepresented — women, indigenous people, youth, and people with disabilities — are fully included in open government.
And, we will work to implement open government across government branches and services. Spreading open government to parliaments and justice systems and other independent government agencies will increase the cross-society collaboration needed to fully embed OGP values.
Practically, this means that in 2020 we will not be hosting a Global Summit. Instead, we will focus on how we can support OGP members in advancing reforms and their implementation. This effort will rely on identifying leaders across the Partnership with expertise on priority policy areas. We want to ensure the knowledge and know-how collected over the past eight years are shared with all. We hope to find enthusiasm for a distributed leadership model that we believe will help the Partnership to succeed.
We also have identified several current priority policy areas within OGP that we will deepen and expand.
We will promote open justice and access to justice by focusing on people’s actual legal needs and the performance of justice institutions, from courts to legal aid organizations to justice ministries, in meeting them. In high- and upper-middle-income OGP countries this includes a focus on housing, consumer, and financial problems which are the most common concerns for the courts. In lower-income OGP countries, the problems is often one of basic documentation and services. We are already developing a coalition of open government leaders around justice issues at the national and local levels.
Balancing the Promise of Digital Governance
The growth of digital technologies, from algorithms to social media, is already a powerful force in open government. But data generation and use have proven prone to ethical conundrums, privacy abuses, misinformation, access divides, cyber-attacks and other potential misuses. Looking ahead, it is imperative that technology is used by governments in a fair, open, and inclusive manner. As co-chairs we will work with OGP members to identify and establish practices for digital governance that foster trust and integrity. Importantly, this focus will require significant collaboration with the private sector, who are key to developing the digital technologies and platforms that governments use and control.
Promoting Transparency and Integrity
OGP’s track record in fighting corruption is strong. From empowering citizens in South Africa and Ukraine to have a say in how their governments spend resources, to unmasking the real owners of anonymous companies in Slovakia and the United Kingdom. However, much more remains to be done to deal with opacity, nepotism, and inequality. In our co-chair year, we will encourage the scaling of OGP anti-corruption commitments, especially those dealing with beneficial ownership transparency and open contracting.
Building a Stronger Civic Space
To ensure the Partnership advances on these key policy areas, we will also focus on strengthening commitments that reinforce the importance of civic space and that provide a safe space for citizens to hold their governments to account. If the massive Ni Una Menos protests in Argentina or the Candlelight Revolution in South Korea have taught us anything, it’s that governments work better when citizens are empowered to shape the policies that affect their lives.
Expanding Open Government at the Local Level
We also continue to recognize the impact of open government at the local level and will ensure that the new OGP Local Program is initiated in 2020. By broadening the base of stakeholders engaged in OGP, there will be more opportunities for all forms of local government — from small municipalities to entire regions, and the civil society organizations working with them — to scale up their reforms, learn from each other, and increase the impact of open government at the local and national level. We have seen great results in Austin, Texas; Sekondi Takoradi, Ghana; and Madrid, Spain and hope for more inspiring stories in other localities around the world.
As we look forward to the year ahead, we would like to build a stronger open government community — with new partnerships and actors from across sectors and regions. From participating in public moments such as Open Gov Week to sharing expertise at the local, national and regional levels, open government advocates are the heart of our movement. Through their passion and sense of purpose, we can invigorate open government with the values that define democracy, build trust, and give hope to people everywhere that government is there to serve their needs.