November 26, 2014 is a day in which Macedonia organized its first ever National Open Government Partnership Forum. The event was organized by the Center for Research and Policy Making (CRPM) in cooperation with the Ministry of Information Society and Administration in the framework of the “Advocacy for Open Government Partnership” project funded by the European Union and the British Embassy in Skopje.
The Forum brought together international and domestic representatives from civil society, government and business and stir discussion along the following topics:
- National and local level initiatives on OGP – comparative perspectives;
- OGP – an avenue for linking government and the business community through open data;
- Inter-institutional communication and cooperation with CSOs – a value added.
The Forum featured three panels. Veronica Cretu, President of the Open Government Institute Moldova, was invited to present during the third panel focusing on the different frameworks for inter-institutional cooperation. Mrs. Cretu joined remotely and her video intervention can be accessed here:
A note on the project “Advocacy for open government: civil society agenda setting and monitoring of implementation of national action plans” is funded by the EU and coordinated through the PASOS network of policy institutes. It has so far provided baseline study and tracked change of citizens’ perception on OGP in the Western Balkan region; facilitated coalition building between civil society organizations in the seven priority areas of OGP and has fostered public dialogue with Government with an aim for civil society to have greater impact on the policy agenda set with the adoption of the new country action plans for Open Government.
“In an ideal scenario OGP member countries won’t be talking about separate action plans
on Open Government in 5 to 10 years. Open Government principles and values should become part of the regular way of doing business.”
– Veronica Cretu
The imperative of individual government departments having a good understanding of open governance (OG) principles if OGP objectives and action plans are to be realized, has been a vital lesson learnt for those involved in the OGP in Moldova, says Veronica Cretu, incoming OGP civil society Steering Committee (SC) member.
Cretu has been actively involved in educating and advocating for individual Moldovan government departments to understand exactly what open governance is, and how such principles speak to their sectoral departmental agendas, “towards ultimately infusing OG into everything they do.”
Lack of capacity
Moldova’s first OGP action plan faced challenges due to a lack of understanding of the principles of OG within government agencies and a concomitant lack of capacity to implement the national action plan in a way that meets the principles of transparency, citizen engagement, openness and accountability.
“We found that people in government did not have an understanding of open government, so we need to build government capacity on this issue – what it is; how you plan activities that speak to and infuse open government principles into action; and how to ensure deliverables result in participation and transparency,” she says.
In the process of developing Moldova’s first action plan, a capacity building (CB) element was lacking. The decision to pilot a more sectoral and inter- sectoral approach for the second action plan process seeks to build capacity within different sectors of government towards accountability, transparency and a more citizen-centred approach to governance.
In working towards a new agenda for the next two years, CB sessions were held with chiefs of key departments of the Ministry of Education. It was a pilot exercise in which “the department was tasked to think through their individual departmental priorities from an OG values perspective”. Cretu says the lack of practical ‘how to’ tools to elaborate or identify specific commitments based on the values of transparency, accountability and citizen engagement makes this task a challenging one.
Role of Civil Society Organisations
Civil society organisations working on issues of transparency, citizen engagement and accountability in Moldova have niche areas of expertise on the very issues with which government departments are struggling. Cretu sees civil society playing a central capacity building and collaboration role towards creating a qualitative and consolidated approach to open government in Moldova.
“It is challenging for civil society to play the role of both partner and watchdog in these processes. We need to learn how to balance the two,” says Cretu.
As in other country contexts, Cretu identifies the need to broaden and deepen CS engagement with open government-related processes, especially outside capital cities. She also identifies the need for tools to ensure the voices of grassroots organisations are heard.
Improving processes: a second chance
Cretu says the second action plan has been approached more holistically and both government and CS have made inputs. Each Ministry was tasked to provide “one good open government-related commitment,” but the pilot exercise was not as effective as envisaged.
The Civil Society Working Group on E-Government/ Open Government, part of the National Participation Council, the driving force for OG in Moldova, has identified a range of OG commitments requiring endorsement in the second action plan. A request in writing to this end has been made to the Prime- Minister, State Chancellery and E-Government Centre.
Public consultations for the second plan are intended once key stakeholders agree on a draft plan, says Cretu: “We are not yet at the stage of the action plan being co-created by key stakeholders. At present, the process is dominated by the agendas of each stakeholder.”
She emphasises the need for a second plan ‘owned’ by both the Moldovan government and civil society. “Civil society has to be part of the process, not just watching it,” she says. She notes however that many CSOs at present lack the resources and capacity to support and fully engage with OG-related work.
M&E and being ‘SMART’
Reflecting on other lessons from the first round, and how they are informing the second action plan process, Cretu notes that: “Commitments towards deliverables in the first plan were not SMART. There was no M&E component for tracking achievements and challenges. The second action plan needs to include M&E, including how and who will conduct M&E. This is essential if we want to institutionalize an OG methodology within the public sector and civil society.”
Ensuring sustainability of open government agenda
In order to ensure sustainability, Cretu argues that “civil society should be driving national Open Government platforms that bring together key stakeholders including Government, private sector, media, education and youth players.”
Going forward, she believes that embedding OG values through the education system could be a valuable entry-point. “Incorporating citizen participation,
public participation, in decision making; and participatory democracy in school curricula could contribute to building an OG culture in our societies. Educating citizens on how to keep governments accountable and how to contribute to the well-being of communities they are part of is crucial.”
Cretu’s vision for the OGP is that “ideally, OGP member countries won’t be talking about separate action plans on open government in five to ten years’ time. “OG principles and values should become part of the regular way of doing business; consultations with citizens should be part of developing sectoral action plans. Local development strategies should be based on citizens’ needs, while OG principles should be at the core of all initiatives implemented by governments,” she says.
“Rethinking the way we do our business, becoming more open, inclusive and accountable to those we serve, being pragmatic in exploring the full potential of technology and innovation, and at the same time balancing situations where not everyone is online, is important.” Cretu concludes: “We need new ways of thinking. We need more open and critical thinking.”
By: Sarita Ranchod,
Source: The OGP Civil Society Hub