Confident OGP Setting Stage For Summit in Mexico City

26 October 2015

By Toby McIntosh

The Open Government Partnership will kick off its third summit with confidence.

The 66-member multilateral institution will host an estimated 1,500 delegates from 94 countries in Mexico City Oct. 26-28. All manner of “open” causes will be on display at dozens of scheduled forums and the significance of the four-year-old experiment will be scrutinized.

The metrics of accomplishment point to solid progress so far, according to OGP officials. Their view is mildly shared by the authors of a major new review of research that includes an OGP assessment. The report also makes sweeping recommendations for funders and pro-reform actors about how the OGP and other multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) can be strengthened, including a call for more financial help for civil society groups.

Quantitative indicators of the OGP’s performance accumulate slowly because of the multi-year and staggered time frames of the process. But the comprehensive OGP database, logging information on more than 2,000 commitments by national governments, is beginning to provide aggregate evidence in some areas.

OGP officials are chary about providing data on how many national goals have been achieved, offering an estimate somewhere between 25% and 70% while saying good data won’t be available until 2016. A bit of new information may arrive at the summit, by which time the eight founding OGP members, including host Mexico, are scheduled to have published self-assessments of their progress on achieving the goals of their second national action plans.

Some concern persists that despite the wide variety of goals selected the National Acton Plans, not enough of them, about one-third, deal with core rights issues. “Commitments tied to key issues like NGO law, access to justice, and civil and political rights have stayed roughly steady across the years in terms of interest- often at a relatively low number to begin with (with 12%, 18%, and 13% respectively),” observed Joe Foti, the director of the OGP Independent Review Mechanism, in a blog post leading up to the meeting. He reported a few other conclusions: action plans are getting shorter and more specific; and also smaller, but with more milestones.

The stories about OGP activity within individual countries are told in detail in the reports by the independent reviewers. The consistency and quality of these reports has grown, though questions remain about their impact in domestic environments where the OGP profile is low. The OGP strategy has always encouraged “domestic accountability” for the open government agenda, which resulted in the creation of participation guidelines.

Inclusion of Civil Society Remains an Issue

OGP officials are feeling optimistic that civil society is increasingly involved in the creation of national action plans, but still see “room for improvement,” as noted in a preview posting by Joe Powell, acting executive director.

New countries are doing do better than earlier countries in adhering to the six procedural requirements for the preparation and implementation of an action plan, according to Foti, but still are a ways from full conformance.  “In general, compliance in OGP has gone up over time (2012-2014) from an average of 2.4 steps complied with to 3.75.” 43% of countries had open processes throughout the OGP action plan. Three of the 13 that had consultation throughout the plan, however, only consulted with invited individuals and organizations.”

In 36 countries, notably including Mexico, the consultation process has been institutionalized in joint government-CSO bodies, of many varieties, OGP officials said. Civil society organization nationally around the OGP is mixed. Paul Maassen, the OGP’s director for Civil Society Engagement, recently estimated that civil society groups engage in some sort of coordination in at least two-thirds of OGP countries, with active coalitions in about 15-25%. CSO attendance is swelling. Around 1,000 CSO participants will register for Mexico City, compared with 600 in the 2013 London summit and 200 at the 2012 summit in Brasilia. Oct. 26 is a Civil Society Day, with the following summit not he following two days.

The larger challenges faced by civil society activists remain a topic of concern for CSOs. Demands for an OGP mechanism to address this concern resulted in an OGP response policy. (See a more detailed FreedomInfo.org report on OGP policies and action on this front.) Recent assessments say the civic space environment is worsening. “There can be no doubt that we are witnessing a global trend that devalues and restricts the role civil society can play in building just and equal societies,” wrote Araddya Mehtta of Oxfam in an OGP blog post.

SDGs, Subnational Governments Join Agenda

Looking ahead, the OGP has signaled interest in several new directions.

The Steering Committee Oct. 25 is expected to approve a pilot project to involve subnational governments. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

The OGP has said it wants to encourage governments to align their open government goals with the challenges posed by the new Sustainable Development Goals recently agreed to at the United Nations. The OGP Steering Committee has called on civil society and government to endorse a Joint Declaration on Open Government for the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Another step was the preparation of a report by Tania Sanchez listing examples of relevant actions.

Another issue raised in the weeks before the summit was participation, raised in the context of budget transparency by Juan Pablo Guerrero, Network Director of the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency and Warren Krafchik, Executive Director of the International Budget Partnership, in an OGP blog post.

Academics Evaluate OGP

One guardedly optimistic assessment of whether multi-stakeholder initiatives like the OGP are making a difference was recently published. It includes a detailed examination of research about the OGP and poses broad challenges to funders and “pro-reform actors.” The wide-ranging report, which also there’s sparse evidence linking transparency and accountability, was prepared by Brandon Brockmyer, an independent researcher and PhD candidate at the School of International Service at American University and Jonathan Fox, a professor in the School of International Service at American University who also serves as an advisor to the OGP Independent Review Mechanism. See summary by Fox with link to full report.

Concerning the OGP, the authors note that there is currently no evaluation of the OGP’s overall effectiveness or impact, the authors cite anecdotal evidence to find, “Nevertheless, there is some evidence that OGP has helped to facilitate national policy reforms.”

The authors conclude:

While there is no official data available on the number of countries that are currently using the OGP platform to make substantive improvements, a representative of the OGP secretariat estimates that “about half” of all OGP countries have committed to politically difficult, challenging reforms. “If one-third to one-half of countries are delivering success, that’s a meaningful impact,” says another staffer. “[OGP] is moving the needle in small, quiet ways,” agrees one former steering committee member. “It’s up to country-level stakeholders to decide whether OGP’s theory of change is working or not.” Although progress will likely continue to be uneven, messy, and incremental across countries, he suggests that researchers should consider history as a counterfactual: “This is not the same sort of progress we’ve seen before.

The OGP plans to commission an independent evaluation of strategic objectives in 2016 and an assessment of longer-term results in 2018.

Funders Told to Bolster National Efforts

Brockmyer and Fox made suggestions for funders, activists and multi-stakeholder governments that could form a agenda for discussions of the future.

They wrote (in summary form here) that funders should:

  • “work to strengthen broad coalitions of national pro-reform actors that can engage directly with MSI agenda-setting, activities, and outputs”
  • “link these efforts to domestic accountability ecosystems, national-level `infomediaries’ who can translate highly technical MSI outputs into relevant and actionable information.
  • facilitate “regular communication and knowledge sharing among MSIs and by supporting comparative case study research,”
  • commission comparative case study research, and
  • encourage MSIs to develop comprehensive monitoring and evaluation strategies.

Pro-reform actors need to:

– broaden MSI processes for civil society consultation and participation beyond political and economic centers,

– seek to customize national MSI agendas as much as possible, so that they resonate with broad civic and social constituencies,”

– petition formal domestic accountability institutions to provide “teeth” to MSI – processes.”

– work to embed disclosed government information into existing channels of public discourse and decision-making.”

Public sector MSIs, the authors said:

  • “can improve their odds of achieving meaningful governance reform by developing and supporting broad coalitions of government reformers that can effectively oversee national implementation of MSI activities. “
  • “should facilitate opportunities for mid-level government reformers from different countries to meet one another and share strategies and concerns.”
  • “can achieve significant improvements in national performance simply by providing templates and examples of good practice whenever possible.”
  • should place a greater emphasis on monitoring and evaluation.

Read all FreedomInfo.org stories on the OGP here.

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