Speech at closing of Day 1 @ European Open Government Partnership event in Dublin (May 8-9, 2014), by Veronica Cretu – member of the civil society steering committee to the Open Government Partnership (OGP), head of Open Government Institute, Moldova
Your excellencies, Civil Society Leaders, colleagues and friends, participants!
It is a great pleasure to be here this afternoon and share with you some of the reflections related to perspectives on the OGP Globally!
Before I do that, let me congratulate the Government of Ireland and colleagues from civil society in Ireland for the wonderful organization of this event as well as for the great civil society afternoon we had yesterday. It is also important to share that those of us in the OGP who have participated in the Asia Open Government event couple of days ago have seen a lot of passion and energy around Open Government there as well.
Open Government Partnership is gaining the momentum with these European and Asian events, as evidenced by the continuously growing engagement from civil society organizations both in OGP member countries and non-OGP member countries. Open Government Partnership is seen today by many civil society representatives in different parts around the globe as a great hope and a wonderful opportunity to bring more transparency, accountability, citizen participation in policy development in their respective countries as well as in creating more civic space for civil society to engage on equal footing with the government around the above mentioned issues.
To keep these dynamics growing, there are a number of aspects we have to continue working together on in OGP and I will start from the following:
1. Deepening and broadening the engagement of the civil society in the open government agenda and I will highlight a number of aspects here:
– OGP only works if civil society is an active part of it. Civil society is the icon, if you want, of the global trend of democratization and – if democracy – as it is known in the West, has a home, then, it is with the civil society.
– In designing National Action plans on Open government, Governments have to accept to deepen and broaden that space, accept to co-create and co-design them together with civil society. And given that open government is a transformative idea, governments need to accept to ‘transform’ and re-think their relationship with civil society. Top-down consultations around National Action Plans is not about Open government at all, rather an illustration of the governments’ inability to get out of their comfort zone and embed new working principles in their relationship with the civil society;
– the examples of the consultation models or methodologies around NAP in countries such as UK, Georgia, Moldova, Croatia and others are really inspiring and worth promoting.
– one of the strongest elements of the OGP action plans is that it introduces a regular cycle of policy planning, implementation and monitoring and each stage in the cycle and presents an opportunity and obligation for governments to engage with civil society to seek their input and feedback. This is still a very uncomfortable exercise for many public representatives. I remember, when conducting a capacity building orientation session with one of the Ministries in Moldova in August 2013 around the 2nd Action plan on Open government, there were several chiefs of the departments of who shared concerns related to the fact that “bottom up approaches and consultations with the civil society will take much of their time and they are not going to manage to do their own job properly” – demonstrating that the overall resistance towards change is still influencing the quality of the policy development not only around Open Government Action Plans but across all sectors.
IS THIS TYPE OF ATTITUDE GOING TO HELP US ACHIEVE A MORE OPEN AND INCLUSIVE GOVERNMENT?!
I doubt so …
It is only through participation, clear commitments, mutual trust and respect, collegiality and accountability and long term vision – both governments and civil society will manage to succeed.
In working together to develop OGP commitments, both governments and civil society must take risks and make some compromises. Civil servants should be ready to open up the doors of government and recognize that there are good ideas out there, and it is worth considering them. Civil society, in turn, should accept that shifting bureaucracies is not easy, and that collaborating with government requires much pragmatism, openness and flexibility.
2. Another aspect I wanted to tackle on relates to the civic space. While open government as a concept, as a philosophy promotes openness and inclusiveness and participation, we have been witnessing un-precedential closing of the civic space particularly in some of the OGP member countries in Europe.
IS INTIMIDATION OF CIVIL SOCIETY ACTIVISTS GOING TO MAKE THE GOVERNMENTS MORE OPENED AND CITIZEN-FRIENDLY? OR REDUCING ACCESS TO PUBLIC SECTOR INFORMATION, BANNING ACCESS TO THE ONLINE SOCIAL MEDIA GOING TO MAKE US, THE CITIZENS, WANT TO GET CLOSER TO OUR GOVERNMENTS?!
I doubt so …
The fostering of civil society is a crucial step towards realizing a freer Europe given today’s geo-political agenda and sever violations of basic human rights in the region driven by Russia’s politics. The existence of the civil society implies a shared sense of identity and what is crucial for us in OGP is to uphold the values and principles of OGP, as articulated in the Open Government Declaration and OGP Articles of Governance.
3. Another important aspect to look at in OGP is the potential of the Independent Reporting mechanism which I want to touch upon: OGP is not a free ride. The theory of change of the OGP states that
– the more governments learn from the findings of the Independent Reporting Mechanism, the more likely it is that each action plan will demonstrate noticeable improvements in both process and content.
– As norms shift and governments become more comfortable with transparency, governments will begin introducing more opportunities for dialogue and become more receptive to civil society input and participation.
– And finally, the more citizens see the government tackling meaningful reforms through OGP, the more they will want to be engaged and will pressure their elected leaders to deliver.
We should all make better use of the IRM reports to raise awareness of both what has been improved and what still needs to be improved
All the above are important elements of OGP and each and every one of us has a role to play in promoting further on this agenda. How can we do that?
There are at least 3 good ways from my perspective:
1. Education – Open Government principles and values have to be embedded in the educational system at all levels: it is through the educational system that we can educate open government promoters, build skills such as critical thinking, innovative thinking, open thinking that are essential to help future citizens become ready for an open government, be ready to co-create and co-design policies, initiatives, challenge and utilize data/evidence for a better informed decision making. If we start designing open and participatory schools, learner-centered, in which everyone has a word to say both on the process and content, we are much more likely to build an open government in our countries. Research also shows that the decisions made at the school level based on open education data, change completely the quality of the decisions made as well as the quality of the educational outcomes. So, open government also starts from open minded educational policy makers, open schools, open teachers, open students.
2. Participation – OGP needs to bring more countries and activists to join in – bringing more countries is essential to gain the momentum, to create more regional synergies particularly there where civic space has been limited through different means, to bridge the divide between those benefiting from open governments and those who don’t , support and encourage participation of open government reformers and continue encouraging participation for meaningful reforms leading to improvement of the quality of life of the citizens around the world.
3. Innovation – continue innovating at all levels. There is no doubt that technology has changed the way both citizens and governments interact with each other, and its potential is enormous, however, it is important that in OGP commitments are not being anchored only in the technological type of innovations. Innovating the relationships between Governments and citizens is crucial indeed. We have to be aware that several billions of the worlds’ population is still without access to Internet – does this mean they can’t enjoy the benefits of an open government?! In OGP we should be also looking at ways to go beyond the technology and address those who don’t have access to it in order to be able to participate in the open government agenda.
Another venue for innovation in OGP is through embedding OGP principles in sector specific action plans or strategic documents on education, health care, and other sectors that might generate more innovations in those areas and make sectors more competitive.
And if Mr. Maude’s famous quote says that “transparency is an idea whos time has come”, it inspires me to re-affirm that indeed “education, participation and innovation in open government are priorities whos time has come in OGP”
Thank you very much and wishing you all an interesting day tomorrow, and much success in the wonderful work you all do in your respective countries be it as civil society or as government representatives!