By Veronica Cretu, Open Government Institute Moldova and member of the Civil Society Steering Committee of the Open Government Partnership (OGP)
On September 29th, a group of Moldovan civil society organizations, government representatives, and World Bank colleagues (including some remotely from Washington DC) joined in an event organized by the Open Government Institute, in partnership with World Bank and E-Government Center to discuss Moldova Government- Civil Society collaboration in the context of Open Government Agenda.
The need for such discussions were anchored in a number of reasons:
- When it comes to the open government agenda the involvement of both Government and civil society had decreased as Moldova moved from its 1st to 2nd Action Plan on Open Government.
- A National Participation Council, which is a civil society –government consultative body established by the Government back in 2010, ended its 2012-2014 mandate a year ago and its mandate has never been renewed. More than that, when a call for a “new” Participation Council was launched earlier this year, only 13 NGOs have applied, while for a full mandate the Council needs 30 members. In 2012, a working group on Open Government was established within the Council particularly with the mandate to participate in the elaboration, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the Open Government Action Plans. Once the formal mandate of the Council expired, the activity of the working group on Open Government has formally stopped as well. Informally, work around Open Government Action Plan implementation has been done by the Open Government Institute. This raises the question of the continuity of both the efforts put in place and of the sustainability of the cooperation between the government and civil society around open government;
- For some reason, the concept of “open government” is often interpreted as “e-government” by representatives of both CSOs and Government, thus, leaving the responsibility for open government to institutions dealing specifically with e-government agenda and not seeing the broader perspectives related to open government and its cross-sector relevancy.
The purpose of the discussions on Tuesday taking place exactly a month before the OGP Summit in Mexico was to provide space for both Government and CSOs representatives to reflect on the ways collaboration around the open government agenda between the two could be improved, based on the lessons learned and some documented practices among Open Government Partnership member countries.
Among the speakers were Ion Gumene (Senior State Advisor to the Prime Minister), Gheorghe Caraseni (Independent Reporting Mechanism Researcher for Moldova Action Plan on Open Government for 2014), and Livia Turcanu (Product Platform Consultant with E-Government Center).
The event was joined remotely by World Bank experts in Washington DC: Kimberly D. Johns (Governance Specialist), Keith McLean (Lead Social Development Specialist), Marcos Mendiburu (Senior Social Development Specialist) and Abhinav Bahn with the Open Government Partnership Support Unit.
Given that Moldova had three Governments in place in less than a year, the dialogue with civil society got interrupted and reconnected again by a new Government. Each Government made certain promises, and when a promise is not fulfilled this leads to even more frustration and lack of trust. The event allowed participants to speak up and share their reflections on what they thought about government-civil society collaboration, both as part of Open Government Agenda and beyond it.
Given the importance of learning from each experience, particularly given that in OGP itself there is a very valuable peer-learning and support component, the following are the key take away from the discussions:
On the national processes related to Gov-CSOs collaboration:
- It is extremely important to have permanent dialogue mechanisms, and regardless of changes in the government those mechanisms should be in place – this would allow civil society organizations to continue interacting with the Government without having to interrupt their activities or affect the quality of the initiatives they are implementing;
- Engagement opportunities for civil society organizations should be open for all interested organizations. It is important to avoid leading to classifications and categorizations related to someone being a representative of “formal” civil society and “informal” civil society organizations. This leads to Government favoring ones over the others, and this is indeed affecting the quality of both feedback and engagement with the Government;
- National Participation Council – a two year term civil society collaboration platform should go through an evaluation, preferably an external one, so that the results allow to understand how efficient this platform has been and how it can be further improved should it be re-launched again;
- Culture for participation among CSOs and the broader citizenry is still at an Inception phase in Moldova. CSOs are more playing the role of social entrepreneurs (providing services, delivering capacity building, doing research and studies, evaluations, others) and have no time for engagement around other issues. However, where engagement was constructive, those practices have to be analyzed and replicated. For example, sector related working groups were mentioned as being very productive – in which CSOs work hand in hand with a specific Ministry around policy issues, initiatives, etc. If that model proves to be most sustainable and constructive why not replicate it and use it?!
- Independent Reporting Mechanism and the reports generated by independent evaluators should serve as a basis for discussions around both nature of the commitments and the engagement mechanisms or the processes behind …
- Both CSOs and Government representatives should be encouraged to take advantage of the webinars and the OGP Working Groups, and thus, connect to the global discussions around open government related issues.
On the Government-civil society collaboration around the Open Government Agenda
- It is important to find the right incentives for bringing more CSOs voices into the open government related agenda. And this can be done through identifying the right set of problems which might be addressed with the help of open government related tools – experience shows that as long as the issues addressed are of low relevance for CSOs they are reluctant to engage. So open government should be seen as a platform that can generate specific solutions to the problems be it nationally or locally;
- The Government needs to have real champions who are the promoters of ambitious public sector reforms, who are not afraid to embrace open government related principles into their daily activities and who know how to build effective dialogue platforms with their civil society partners;
- Engagement of CSOs in the open government related processes nationally should be opened to as many CSOs as possible. Using clear language, linking open government mechanisms and principles to the local development agenda is key;
- Learning from the best practices related to Gov-CSOs collaboration platforms existent in the OGP member countries through exploring on the existent research and doing some analyses of what might work in the context of our country is really valuable;
On the role of international development partners:
CSOs representatives often mention lack of resources for being able to engage meaningfully in the monitoring processes related to National Action Plans implementation. And while there are quite a number of international development partners in the country, very few are having the open government agenda/initiatives among their key priorities (World Bank is an exception in this regards). More than that, recently, International Organizations such as UNDP, or Soros, others have started to apply for the funding available for Moldovan Civil Society sector along with national CSOs which makes the competition for the last ones really tough.
Which is why, donors’ community should also re-think their position vis-à-vis the funding mechanisms for the national/local CSOs along with embedding open government, open data, citizen-engagement mechanisms, open contracting, fiscal transparency, others in their calls for proposals. Some capacity building sessions on open government, OGP, and other sub-issues might be relevant to be organized together with representatives of donors’ community.
To conclude, the pre-OGP Summit meeting was a great “motive” to:
- Raise awareness of the upcoming OGP Global Summit – something most of the people in the room might have heard for the first time;
- Remind both Governments and CSOs about their OGP membership and commitments made as part of this membership;
- Look into the current status of the collaboration between the Government and CSOs around the Open Government related agenda and not only;
- Analyze the institutionalized dialogue practices/mechanisms existent in the OGP member country and identify ways to improve your own platforms;
- Create one more opportunity for Government and CSOs to meet and address the processes and contents of the national open government agendas;
- Reflect on the results of the Independent Reporting Mechanism and plan for the future.
Hoping that Moldovan experience could indeed inspire other OGP member countries to organize local debates around open government related issues prior to the Summit, because if it is not now – then when?! And if it is not you – then who could organize something similar?!
For questions related to national pre-OGP Summit events, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org