Open Government From Austin to Argentina: The Americas Regional Meeting

New to open government? View my other post: Open Government Here at Home in Austin

Last week I was in Buenos Aires, Argentina for the Americas Regional Open Government Partnerships Meeting (a mouthful, I know). I was flown there as a representative for Open Austin, one of the organizations partnered with the City of Austin for the Subnational Government Pilot Program.

So, as Austin’s first cycle of participants of the Open Government Partnership comes to an end, I wanted to reflect on the event I attended and share some of my takeaways.

Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo statue in Buenos Aires near where I was staying

The Americas Regional Open Government Partnership Meeting in Argentina

This was a large meeting place for those interested and involved in open government in North and South American hosted by OGP from November 20th-22nd.

A snapshot from Civil Society Day, a panel on maintaining OGP when government leadership transitions, and another panel on the importance of civic space and open government

For the meeting, most was done in Spanish but there was translation services available.

Attendees included:

  • National and subnational government representatives and employees
  • Representatives from civil society, which is defined as non-government organizations. Think journalist, educators, activists, and more
  • Independent researchers of open governments, which are a part of the Independent reporting mechanism(IRM)

The meeting was run like a conference. There, the different attendees came together to share ideas and work to solve and discuss shared problems. While there I met folks from Washington D.C., Guatemala, El Salvador, Brazil, and heard a wide variety of discussion ranging from open research in academia to greater citizen participation in OGP.

Subnational Government Participation in the Americans OGP Regional Meeting

Raymond, Austin’s IRM researcher, presenting takeaways from a group discussion on the subnational program workshop

I also got the chance to participated in a workshop specifically for the subnational pioneers during the Americas meeting. This was a chance to share experiences and insights as this first cycle of the program comes to a close.

For context, previously OGP had a focus solely on national governments. In 2016 they started a subnational pilot program to test the open government partnership at a smaller scale. There are 15 subnational governments involved that each have no more than 5 commitments to make their government more open within a year. These governments have participated in a series of meetings and workshops over the past year, the one at the Argentina meeting being the latest. Austin is the only US city currently in the pioneer program. Unfortunately, a government representative from Austin was unable to join us at the workshop in Buenos Aires but our Researcher for Austin, Raymond Weyandt was in attendance with me.

Because of the success so far in the pilot program in creating and currently implementing commitments at a more local level, the program will continue in 2018. At the workshop, reps from civil society, government point of contacts, and independent researchers were present and discussed ways to make the program more effective moving forward out of the pilot stage and information was shared on the next steps for creating or expanding on commitments for 2018.

The next steps for subnational OGP are still being finalized but more information on the program for 2018 should be out soon.

Rocking my converse and favorite blazer next to the water and the exit

On Wednesday, a day after the pioneer workshop, I got to share my experience with the program as a civil society representative and leader of Open Austin. I sat with others from the US, Brazil, and Canada and we discussed the effectiveness of the program and ways to strengthen it.

There was a strong thread of discussion on how to better engaging civil society, a theme that was present in most of the sessions I chose to attend. Capacity building training, more education on OGP, having communications strategies as larger parts of the commitments, and creating shared responsibility for implementation with civil society were some ideas floated during the session.

My Takeaways From the OGP Meeting (a non-exhaustive list)

I’ve tried to distill some of my takeaways from the event below but think there’s some room to write and share more info from abroad and at home.

  1. From Argentina to the Canada, we are facing similar challenges and we have to be sure to share the stories of our failures and amplify our successes.
  2. There’s always going to be a battle to fight. There isn’t a quick end or silver bullet solution to creating open government. We have to keep pushing for better practices, more collaboration, and increase participation of those who don’t look like us or aren’t As familiar with OGP. Better engagement with targeted and vulnerable communities might be a good start in helping us prioritize our commitments.
  3. The United States is pretty open compared to other countries but we shouldn’t let our comfort make us complacent. Especially so with an administration that has shown it is not so friendly to being open.
  4. We have work to do to make open government have meaning and give visibility to those outside of the “the usual suspects”. We have to work with organizations and partners across the board and speak to them in more direct terms on how open government would benefit them and their mission.

You can check out more takeaways and tweets from the event by looking at #OGPArgentina on Twitter.


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