Launching the NAP Review: Results

By Tim Hughes

18 months ago we set out to develop a tool for civil society in OGP countries to assess how open and ambitious their governments were being in developing their National Action Plans. After countless drafts of questions and two rounds of pilots, we’re pleased to be able to share with you what we’ve come up with. In this three part blog post series, we will 1) introduce the tool, 2) share the results from the latest round of pilots, and 3) draw some overarching conclusions from the pilots.

Today we look at the results of the pilot countries.

Seven countries – Argentina, Colombia, Finland, France, Hungary, Israel and Liberia – have just been through the process of completing the review.  Here’s how they did.

The table below shows the percentage of the available score each country received overall and in each part of the review (Part A: NAP Implementation; Part B: NAP Creation; & Part C: NAP Quality). A link to the full results can be found at the end of the post.

Argentina

Colombia

Finland

France

Hungary

Israel

Liberia

Overall

Part A

33%

16%

70%

40%

22%

76%

43%

Part B

38%

65%

68%

65%

26%

14%

77%

50%

Part C

52%

50%

59%

54%

30%

49%

78%

53%

Overall

41%

44%

66%

60%

32%

28%

77%

50%

As we said in the first post, we need to be careful about the conclusions we draw, particularly in comparisons between countries, because how a question is interpreted and answered will depend on a lot of individual, societal and cultural factors.  That said, here we outline some high level findings and conclusions from each of the countries.

Argentina

Argentina received 41% of the available score from its civil society reviewers.  It did best on the quality of the new action plan (52%) and worst on the openness of the implementation of the previous plan (33%).  Across the review, it was judged to have fulfilled just 4 of the 47 criteria to a large extent, compared with 11 not at all.

The scores suggest that the Government made some effort to run an open process, fulfilling most of the criteria to some extent.  However, despite there being frequent meetings, Argentina did particularly poorly on its relationship with civil society.  For example, civil society felt little influence over the action plan, and judged the partnership with government to be poor.  In contrast, commitments were well written, with clear problem statements and milestones, but again they only partially matched the priorities of civil society.  It will be interesting to see how the new government will take forward the OGP process.

Colombia

Colombia received 44% of the available score from its civil society reviewers.  It did best on the process for developing the latest action plan (65%), and worst by some margin on the openness of the implementation of the previous plan (16%).  Across the review, it was judged to have fulfilled just 7 of the 47 criteria to a large extent, compared with 8 not at all.

The scores suggest that the Government made a good effort to run an open process (fulfilling most of the criteria to a moderate extent), though notably it scored poorly on factors that would enable widespread engagement (e.g. widely publicising the details of meetings, and providing for remote participation).  Commitments were well written, with clear details, milestones and owners, though they lacked clear problem statements.  Colombia scored worst of the participating countries on the openness of the implementation of the previous action plan, which hurt its overall score, and would seem an important area for attention over the coming year.

Finland

Finland received 66% of the available score from its civil society reviewers.  It scored evenly on the openness of the process for implementing the previous (70%) and developing the latest plans (68%), but fell down on the quality of the action plan (59%).  Along with Liberia, it was the only country judged to have fulfilled all of the criteria to at least some extent, with 8 met to a large extent.

The scores suggest that the Government made a good effort to run an open process, scoring particularly highly on aspects of its transparency (e.g. publication of a timeline, point of contact details, and key documents), though it did poorly on publishing inputs into the consultation process and communicating why they were or were not taken into account.  Finland also fell short on a couple of criteria related to the SMARTness of its commitments (e.g. publication of metrics, and owners), which could be easily rectified in the coming months.  Considering its positive performance overall, an area of particular focus would be reviewing where the Government’s broader activities are not consistent with the principles of open government, a criteria on which most countries performed badly.

France

France received 60% of the available score from its civil society reviewers.  This was France’s first action plan, so Part A of the review was not completed.  In the remaining sections, it scored a little better on the creation (65%) than the quality (54%) of the NAP.  Across the review, it was judged to have fulfilled 14 of the 47 criteria to a large extent, compared with just 3 not at all.

The scores suggest that the Government made a good effort to run an open process, like Finland scoring particularly highly on aspects of its transparency (e.g. publication of a timeline, point of contact details, and key decision maker details), but poorly on publishing inputs into the consultation process or communicating why they were or were not taken into account.  France performed particularly well on holding regular, open meetings with civil society, though this was not felt by civil society to translate into decision making power, with low scores assigned for the extent to which civil society was involved in developing commitments or influencing the plan. Improving this partnership would seem an important area for attention.

Hungary

Hungary received 30% of the available score from its civil society reviewers.  It did best on openness of the implementation of the previous action plan (40%), and worst on the creation of the new plan (26%).  Across the review, it was judged to have fulfilled just 2 of the 47 criteria to a large extent, compared with a third (16) not at all.

The scores suggest that the Government made very little effort to run an open process, scoring particularly poorly on consulting or involving civil society in developing the NAP.  Hungary scored the worst of the participating countries on the quality of its action plan, with low scores on milestones, metrics and ownership.  Perhaps of most concern, civil society judged the government to be particularly poor on the sincerity of its commitment towards open government.  In contrast, there does appear to have been some effort to involve civil society in implementing the previous action plan, with the presence of a multi-stakeholder forum or steering group being a particular plus point; this could, perhaps, be a vehicle for improving Hungary’s performance in the future.

Israel

Israel received 28% of the available score from its civil society reviewers, the lowest score among the participating countries.  It did best on the quality of its latest action plan (49%), and worst by some margin on the openness of the process to create it (14%).  Across the review, it was judged to have fulfilled just 3 of the 47 criteria to a large extent, compared with half (23) not at all.

The scores suggest that the Government made no effort to run an open process, receiving the lowest score of the participating countries on this aspect of the review, and only scoring higher than “to some extent” on one criteria (the extent to which civil society was free to self organise).  Scores were also poor across the implementation of the previous action plan, with the one positive being the presence of a joint process to review the consultation and engagement process.  In contrast, Israel did comparatively well on the SMARTness of its commitments, though this was offset by weak scores on the extent to which the plan covers civil society priorities and the sincerity of the Government’s commitment to openness.  Judging by these scores, it would seem that Israel has significant work to do in implementing the principles and requirements of OGP, and improving its engagement with civil society in the future.

Liberia

Liberia received 77% of the available score from its civil society reviewers, the highest score among the participating countries.  Liberia scored remarkably consistently across the review, with just 2 percentage points separating its highest and lowest scores.  Along with Finland, it was the only country judged to have fulfilled all of the criteria to at least some extent, with 19 met to a large extent.

The scores suggest that the Government made a very good effort to run an open process, scoring particularly well on the involvement of civil society directly in the decision making process (e.g. developing commitments and forming the action plan), and has successfully developed a strong action plan with civil society.  It did comparatively less well on the transparency of the process, though was still judged to have fulfilled each of the criteria to a moderate extent.  The only criteria that Liberia was judged to have met only to some extent was on publishing the inputs to its consultation.  A couple of areas for improvement next time perhaps.

Conclusions

The analysis above is based on the scores provided by the civil society reviewers.  The detailed results for each country can be found here.  Let us know in the comments if you disagree with the way we’ve interpreted the results.


In the next post, we’ll draw out some high level conclusions from across the pilot countries.

Launching the NAP Review: the Tool

By Tim Hughes

18 months ago we set out to develop a tool for civil society in OGP countries to assess how open and ambitious their governments were being in developing their National Action Plans. After countless drafts of questions and two rounds of pilots, we’re pleased to be able to share with you what we’ve come up with. In this three part blog post series, we will 1) introduce the tool, 2) share the results from the latest round of pilots, and 3) draw some overarching conclusions from the pilots.

Today, we start with an overview of the tool itself. What’s it for, what does it look like, and what’s next?

The purpose for developing the tool has been threefold:

First, it’s intended to support the rigorous and comprehensive scrutiny of an action plan by civil society.  It consists of fifty questions, divided across three sections, that evaluate 1) how the previous NAP was implemented, 2) how a new action plan was developed, and 3) the quality and ambition of commitments.  Questions explore everything from whether a timeline was proactively published to the extent to which commitments match civil society priorities. The scoring of each question is weighted, based on a survey of civil society, to ensure that each is given the worth it deserves.

Second, it allows for some comparison between countries and, more importantly, over time within countries.  For each metric, civil society is asked to rate their government on a four point scale, from “not at all” to “to a large extent”, with each option including some explanatory text to give some guidance on what “to a moderate extent”, for example, would look like in practice.  Of course, how a question is interpreted and answered will still depend on a lot of individual, societal and cultural factors, so we must be careful about the conclusions we draw, particularly in comparisons between countries.  Perhaps more importantly, government and civil society will be able to track how they progress over time with each action plan they produce.

Third, the tool is intended to support civil society advocacy to government, and prompt a discussion between the two partners on how their country can perform best. Within the process of completing the review, there’s an opportunity for government and other civil society organisations to respond to the first draft completed by the lead civil society reviewer. However, much more important than this, we hope the tool will be used collaboratively by government and civil society before and after a NAP is developed to set and review ambition.

As more countries complete the review, we’ll be able to explore correlations between different metrics and trends over time.  With that in mind, the next steps for us are to:

  1. Work out how best to publish and present the results from the review.
  2. Roll the review out to the next round of countries developing their NAPs
  3. Explore the data and work out what it’s telling us about the state of OGP

In the next post, we’ll look at how the pilot countries performed in the review.

Faces of Open Government: New Civil Society Steering Committee member Fernando Straface

How does open government make a difference in people’s lives?

Open government impacts on people’s lives, both directly by enabling citizens to access public information and oversee state actions and practices, as well as indirectly, by creating a climate of consultation and collaborative policy design conducive to more effective, prudent governance. Furthermore, and fundamentally, people benefit from improved public policies. These policies are rooted in consultation and shaped not by politicians in isolation but by private and civil society stakeholders and the public at large. This enhances citizens’ and other stakeholders’ sense of engagement and influence, shortens the distance between them and those running their country, and it means poor governance practices come into view and are less tenable, while conversely good governance gets noticed and promoted. In sum, open government improves the perceived – and actual – quality of governance and policymaking, benefiting people greatly.

Open government provides the mechanisms to improve governance, to govern more intelligently, by getting citizen input to create a public agenda that is truly co-designed. A key requirement and benefit of open government is collaboration between government and civil society. A public policy that is co-designed and co-implemented by these two actors will be more coherent, carry more legitimacy, and will be targeted at the specific needs of the people in the community. Civil society monitoring and evaluation of public policy also help tackle corruption, increase efficiency and bring focus to policy actions. In short, public involvement in the design of public policies enhances their potential to improve people´s lives.

The transparency and accountability that comes with open government also limits corruption. Openness is the best barrier to the misuse of power and the most effective good government enabler. Significantly reducing corruption allows for more and wiser allocation of investment in social areas translating into improved life conditions and helping to eradicate poverty.

How can the OGP leverage global civil society’s interests of opening up governments?

OGP has great potential to contribute to the objective of leveraging global civil society’s interests in opening up government. One way of enhancing the role of civil society would be to strengthen the rules for the creation of national action plans in order to ensure more weight for civil society in these processes.

In addition to the commitment of the individual countries to the principle of open government, another way to achieve this goal could be to provide the civil society organizations that build, monitor and evaluate the national action plans with specific funds and training workshops. Further support could also include civil society organizations related to the research and development of technological solutions and apps relating to open government issues. There is also a need to celebrate good partnerships between CSOs and governments, and to have a more long-term understanding of the nature of this relationship.

Finally, OGP can promote the generation of evidence regarding the benefits of open government. Building on the existing levels of good will and commitment regarding the importance of open government, the possibility to support these claims with empirical data would definitely be an important tool in order to leverage interest in rendering governments more open.

What will be your main priorities for the years to come as an OGP civil society Steering Committee member?

My priorities as an OGP civil society Steering Committee member will be threefold.

Firstly, I will promote the inclusion of the concept of open justice. I believe that the Judicial branch should be considered at the same level as the Executive and Legislative branches.

Secondly, I believe that the OGP should provide support to civil society organizations of countries that are not yet members, such as Ecuador, Venezuela and Cuba. I will encourage the priority of assisting organizations that are working in these countries despite a potentially unfavourable context with funds, workshops and exchanges in order to promote the goals and practices of open government. To give but one example, we at CIPPEC have received interns from Cuba, an experience that proved to be as valuable for them as it was for us in our efforts to understand the challenges that they are currently facing in their country of origin.

Finally, despite the fact that this is topic is already very advanced in OGP, I believe that there remains a lot to work still to do at the sub-national level. We still face challenges to the accessing of public information, the quality and deliverance of public services, the protection of users’ rights, the transparency of public administrations and the involvement and participation of citizenship in public policies, among other related issues.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the OGP civil society community?

Given that our lives are now empowered through new IT initiatives, we have the opportunity to give better support to governments seeking to commit to transparency through open data, so that such commitments can include a clear roadmap for their implementation. Similarly, the OGP civil society community has the opportunity to leverage the increased understanding of the role of technology in enhancing disclosure and public access to information, and to connect the best practices of global open data with transparency reforms and open government initiatives.

Fernando Straface is the co-founder and Executive Director of CIPPEC and OGP Civil Society Steering Committee Member.

What are the most important elements of a strong National Action Plan?

Please help us develop the CSO National Action Plan Review Tool by completing this short survey:

http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/2178191/What-are-the-most-important-elements-of-a-strong-National-Action-Plan

Over the past 18 months, the OGP Civil Society Engagement Team and Involve have been building and testing a new tool for civil society to evaluate their country’s National Action Plan. The main objective of the tool is to equip national civil society in OGP countries with an advocacy tool to help them push for stronger engagement from government and more ambitious action plans.

In 2014, we tested the tool’s process and questions in five pilot countries. Following an evaluation workshop at the beginning of this year, we revised the tool based on what we learnt from the pilots. Over the coming months we’re rolling this new and improved version of the tool out to the latest round of countries delivering their new National Action Plan this year. At the OGP annual global Summit in Mexico (Oct 27-29) we hope to present some preliminary results.

The next step for the development of the tool is to sharpen the scoring and weighting of the review. Each of the questions seeks to measure an important element of developing a good National Action Plan, but of course not all questions or elements are of equal importance. The tool needs to take this into account, giving added weight to the most critical factors and less weight to the nicer-to-haves.

We need your help to assess the importance of each element of developing a National Action Plan to ensure we’re giving each question the importance it deserves!

Once we have collected feedback from across the OGP community, we will use the findings to devise the scoring for the tool.

Please help us develop the CSO National Action Plan Review Tool by completing this short survey:

http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/2178191/What-are-the-most-important-elements-of-a-strong-National-Action-Plan

ShreyaBasu

Advancing OGP in Asia Pacific

By Shreya Basu

Even as the membership base of the Open Government Partnership continues to grow year on year, with 65 countries having joined since its inception in 2011, Asia Pacific as a region continues to remain underrepresented. For a region with more than 60% of the world’s population, increasing membership and ensuring that the OGP platform delivers on its reform potential in member countries is in many ways fundamental to success of the initiative overall. Meeting these objectives will need concerted efforts in four key areas.

Broadening the base

There are several countries in the region that meet the eligibility criteria but are yet to join. This includes Bhutan, India, Japan, Nepal, the Kyrgyz Republic, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea and Thailand. Although there is bottom-up demand from domestic civil society coalitions and some outreach efforts by existing members, these efforts will need to be further strengthened and accelerated to bring these countries into the OGP fold. In a range of non-eligible countries too, local and international actors are working to push for governments to meet the eligibility criteria and join OGP. Building on the interest generated amongst the 650 government and civil society delegates attending the OGP Asia Pacific Regional Conference in Bali in May 2014, outreach workshops have been held in the past year in Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Papua New Guinea on the values and principles of OGP and the opportunities it presents. Vietnam – where there is a strong civil society interest – plans to hold a similar workshop later this year. Led by key Indonesian OGP actors, with support from the Philippines and funders in the region like Ford and OSF, these outreach efforts have been met with enthusiasm but now the more challenging work on preparing these countries in meeting the eligibility criteria or joining the partnership remains to be completed. Donors and other partners in the region such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asia Foundation have a key role to play in supporting government and civil society efforts toward this end. Current member countries too have more to do in terms of broadening the base – in bringing more topics, more government agencies and civil society organizations to dialogues and debates on pushing the frontiers of open government. Identifying key government reform champions – those that are powerful, inspiring and connected will be a crucial part of this. It would be great if at least 2 additional Asian countries join OGP at the upcoming Global Summit in Mexico.

Deepening engagement between governments and civil society

As in other regions, there is a worrying trend towards the restriction of civic space in much of Asia. In countries as diverse as Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Indonesia and India, laws and regulations are being adopted or amended in an attempt to muzzle civil society and making it difficult for them to function. In March 2015, three civil society organizations in Azerbaijan submitted a letter of concern to OGP regarding the environment for civil society to operate in the country. Under the Response Policy, the Criteria and Standards sub-committee of the OGP Steering Committee found the concerns to be relevant and valid, and the Steering Committee is now working on follow-up actions.

In such an environment, OGP offers an important platform for ongoing dialogue between governments and civil society on civic participation and policy decisions that affect the everyday lives of citizens. In Indonesia and the Philippines, both founding members of OGP, civil society and governments are now working toward finding improved models for co-creating and monitoring their OGP National Action Plans (NAPs). New Zealand is in the process of setting up a Stakeholder Advisory Group to assist with developing, implementing and evaluating their plans. The important thing now is to sustain the positive momentum generated by OGP and create permanent dialogue mechanisms, with clear terms of reference, representation drawn from groups that go beyond the ‘usual suspects’ and regular meetings to strengthen the impact of the OGP process on government-civil society engagement and to mitigate against risks posed by changes in leadership. With elections coming up in the next 12 months for example in Mongolia and the Philippines, this will be an issue of particular salience in the Asia Pacific region for ensuring the sustainability of the reforms undertaken till date.

Securing more ambitious commitments and increasing accountability

Australia, Azerbaijan, and the Philippines are due to develop new National Actions Plans in 2015, and others will do so over the course of the next 18 months. The commitments made in these NAPs form the core of OGP participation and present a real opportunity for reformers in government and civil society advocates to include solid, ambitious commitments. For example in Georgia, civil society successfully pushed for the inclusion of a commitment on the expansion of the list of public officials obliged to disclose their income and assets. The list of officials now also include for instance heads of state owned enterprises and non-commercial legal entities founded by the state. The NAP development process can be used strategically elsewhere in the region too. In the Philippines for example, the development of the third NAP provides an opportunity to secure more concrete commitments and timelines on the passage of the Freedom of Information bill. Across the board, it is time to up the ante on committing to politically difficult and more complex reforms in areas such as campaign finance, judicial and legislative reform, for open government to truly take hold.  OGP’s international peer network and tools such as the Open Gov Guide, the OGP Explorer and case studies can be used to identify innovative and stretching commitments made by others and replicate these where they fit the local context and needs.

But making ambitious commitments will not be enough; translating these commitments to action is equally important. Governments will need to allocate sufficient resources for implementing meaningful reforms and ensuring their sustainability. OGP’s multilateral partners are well positioned to help governments where external support might be needed. Similarly the OGP Working Groups can be used to identify best practices in areas related to open parliaments, access to information, open data, natural resources and fiscal transparency. National level accountability for the commitments made in the National Action Plans also needs to be strengthened. Civil society organizations need to step up on their monitoring role and maintain pressure on their governments to deliver on their commitments. Some good examples can be found here and here. The IRM progress reports can be used to stimulate dialogue and promote accountability between governments and citizens. Progress reports are due for Indonesia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Philippines and South Korea in the next six to eight month period. The timelines for the individual reports can be obtained from the OGP activity calendars.

Creating more platforms for lesson-sharing

There is a lot of exciting work going on in the region on open government reforms, both at national and sub-national levels, judging from the applications received for the Open Government Awards.

The 2015 Global Summit in Mexico will offer an opportunity to showcase some of these best practices and others, and connect people working in different countries and on different issues, but facing similar realities. However, there’s still more thinking to be done around how such dialogue and networking can be turned into an on-going and regular process, particularly on creating and effectively using virtual platforms, and using existing national, regional and global fora/events to share lessons, push for change and connect to other important agendas including the Post-2015 Development Agenda and Financing for Development.

Clearly there’s a lot to do and much to look forward to in the coming months. We’re looking forward to seeing some bold, new targets in the action plans. Indonesia has submitted an application to be on Steering Committee, demonstrating its commitment to continue playing a leading role in the region. Word has it that Papua New Guinea is keen to join OGP soon and the Mexico Summit will hopefully reinvigorate interest amongst others that participated in the Bali conference last year.

Asia has much to contribute to the global open government movement. Much of the innovative transparency and accountability work is being pioneered here. In the Philippines, social audits are being piloted for important public works and service delivery projects such as flood control, public waste management, and school infrastructure programs. In Mongolia, the government has established 24-hour communications channels for citizens to gain immediate and direct access to policy makers. And in India, crowdsourcing is being used to deal with bribery complaints via the ipaidabribe.com site, a model that has now been replicated across several countries. Most importantly, there’s broad range of inspiring organizations and individuals across participating, eligible and non-eligible countries that are continually pushing the boundaries of openness and playing a vital role in promoting greater government accountability. I look forward to working with this vibrant community in helping realize the potential of open government for the 4.4 billion citizens of Asia.

Shreya Basu is the Open Government Partnership’s (OGP) Regional Civil Society Coordinator for Asia Pacific. She joined the OGP Support Unit in June 2015 as the Regional Civil Society Coordinator in Asia, based in Singapore. She previously worked for Publish What You Fund – the global campaign for aid transparency – where she managed the organization’s research and monitoring work and led on the design, delivery and stakeholder management for the annual Aid Transparency Index. Prior to Publish What You Fund, she worked with the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore where she conducted research on public sector reforms in South and Southeast Asia, including in India and OGP participating countries Indonesia and the Philippines. Shreya also has consulting experience in fraud risk management and anti-corruption compliance programs for clients across multiple industries. She is a graduate of Yale University’s Master’s in International Relations program. 

liberian flag

Validating Liberia’s Open Government Partnership National Action Plan

By Meghan Schneider

On June 12, 2015 the Republic of Liberia convened a Stakeholders’ Interactive Forum to Validate the Open Government Partnership Action Plan at the Ministry of Information (MICAT). Participants included members of the OGP Steering Committee who came from various counties, as well as representatives from various civil society organizations and government ministries. The Honorable Andrew G. Temeh, Deputy Minister of Administration at MICAT and the OGP Focal Person, gave an overview of the OGP’s 2015-2016 Action Plan. After the overview, participants were able to ask questions and offer feedback concerning the Plan.

OGP action plans have four thematic areas: transparency, citizen participation, accountability and integrity, and technology and innovation. Under each of the four thematic areas there were several specific goals and suggestions for 17 specific commitments.

TRANSPARENCY

Regarding transparency, a key component of the Action Plan is to appoint twenty additional Public Information Officers and popularize the Freedom of Information Act. The plan will expand the Open Budget Initiative through an SMS platform and disseminate information through a town crier. The Plan also seeks to make information about proposed land reforms, commercial land use rights, and natural resources available to the general public.

CITIZEN PARTICIPATION

In the area of citizen participation the Action Plan sought to implement the new Jury Law by teaching citizens about the their role as jurors. The plan also aims to establish the Know Your Rights policing campaign, which will publish information on the powers of law enforcement personnel, teach citizens how to file a complaint via SMS, and empower citizens to promote good law enforcement.

ACCOUNTABILITY AND INTEGRITY

The third thematic area focused on the passage of the Whistleblower Protection Act. President Sirleaf has already started this process and the OGP Action Plan aims to raise awareness and educate citizens about this legislation. In addition, the Action Plan aims to improve integrity within government systems by providing ethics training sessions for current government employees and officials. These trainings will also provide an opportunity for dialogue within these organizations as well as with citizens.

TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION

The OGP Action Plan is heavily committed to increasing the use of technology and innovation as tools to promote open government. The Plan encourages citizens to provide feedback on national development outcomes through an SMS platform. The Action Plan seeks to establish an Open Data portal through which various sectors of government can share information with the citizenry. This will include digitizing community policing by sharing crime statistics and mapping. The Open Data portal will build upon information already collected by various international organizations, and the first wave will focus on data about the healthcare system. The portal will be hosted in Liberia and run by the government with support from IBM, the World Bank, and local NGO iLab Liberia.

THE VALIDATION PROCESS

Despite the Ebola crisis, the Government of Liberia has embarked on a comprehensive plan to consult a wide cross-section of society in the formulation of its second OGP Action Plan. National consultations were held with participation from all 15 Liberia counties, drawing representatives from local government, and civil society organizations representing youth, gender, and disabled groups. A special intra-government consultation was also held with the judicial branch of government. Under the direction of MICAT, Monrovia-based NGOs and a variety of government ministries have exercised leadership of the Government of Liberia’s OGP Action Plan through regular gatherings of a Steering Committee that have drawn the outlines of the partnership that government and civil society will constitute to meet Liberia’s OGP commitments.

Meghan Schneider is currently pursuing a dual Master’s of Public Relations and International Relations through the Public Diplomacy program at Syracuse University. She is also working towards a Certificate of Advanced Study in Conflict Resolution, with a focus on transnational conflicts. Meghan is currently living in Monrovia, Liberia, where she is working as a Summer Design Resident for Accountability Lab.

SL flag

Open-Government Partnership Process in Sierra Leone: Engaging in mutually respectful manner and Finding a common ground to actualise the reforms we need

By Marcella Samba-Sesay

Successive Governments in Sierra Leone as part of its democratic renewals and post-conflict reform processes have made considerable efforts toward inclusive participation of Civil Society (CS) in governance. Additionally, the leadership of Ernest Bai Koroma instituted the Open Government Initiative (OGI) to close the feedback loop between government and citizens through timely ‘information free-flow’. Government has also made efforts for CS representation in committees, projects and commissions. Despite these collaborative efforts, relationships between CSOs and government have been clouded by mistrust and mostly centred on the ‘we against you’ syndrome. Within such circumstances there were limited avenues to actualise systemic changes and institutional reforms badly needed as a country. Rebuilding, nurturing and sustaining it reforms within such relationships and interactions become problematic.

Arguably, both civil society and government have common interests of reform and transformation; establishing a genuine platform to actualise ‘our common interest’ is the gap the Open Government Partnership (OGP) process has sought to fill. The piece critically examines the Establishment of the OGP, in Sierra Leone, the Process towards the development of the first ever National Action Plan (NAP)and highlights a number of lessons for other countries wanting to go through such opaque but well -meaning partnership process.

Agenda Setting: Getting it right at the start

What today is an ambitious and well-deserving OGP Process in Sierra Leone started with doubts and intense pressure between CS and Government. Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) working on Governance reform were determined to push the age old reform agenda around extractive transparency, access to information and public integrity in governance among others. CS saw the OGP process as a welcoming opportunity for accelerating such reforms and making the government more responsive and accountable to citizens’ demands. CSOs were thus quick to proactively occupy the space. A CGG team proceeded to engage the OGI Director and her team to be a part of the OGP process as CGG has been undertaking initial CSO engagement on understanding the OGP process and CS role through the AccessSL initiative in partnership with Society for Democratic Initiatives (SDI).

Eventually, CGG and SDI were then invited to be part of the Steering Committee. During the first Steering Committee meeting only 10 CSOs were to be involved alongside with 10 MDAs As, CSOs knowing the ideals that the OGP espouses and the value of claiming the space at an early stage of the process, both CGG and SDI were quick to realise that a properly constituted Steering Committee is the starting point for actualising results. More importantly, the OGP membership criteria include fiscal transparency, income and asset disclosure, access to information and citizen’s engagement. Civil society organizations in Sierra Leone believe that the OGP membership process will become a tool in our fight against corruption, and will serve as a benchmark for opening governmental spaces for effective resource management and service delivery. CGG and SDI pushed for the broadening of the membership to include but not limited to organisations known and advocating on issues around the grand challenges which will form the basis of consultation and eventual development and design of the NAP. An additional 7 CSOs were incorporated taking the Steering Committee to 17 from CS and 17 from government to balance the represenation.

Part of the agenda setting process was the willingness of government to reasonably relinquish the space the CS have claimed without eroding Government’s leadership. In the diction of Khadijah Sesay the director of OGI/OGP: ’our role is not to micro manage the process’. In essence the question around how government and civil society could leverage the OGP process as a platform to foster open governance was directly emphasized.

The Road to the OGP and Developing the First National Action Plan in Record Time

The OGP in Sierra Leone has thrived on a highly consultative process inclusive of religious and traditional leaders, Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAS), CS, media and community groups. Sierra Leone’s road to OGP membership started with President Ernest Koroma announcing in February 2014 that the Open Government Initiative (OGI) and the Millennium Challenge Coordinating Unit (MCCU) would be the twin coordinating agencies of the OGP process. A group of 17 government and 17 CSOs were to serve in the Steering Committee with the initial task of creating a NAP for Sierra Leone’s OGP process. The committee is headed by a civil society representative from the interreligious council in the person of Canon Adjai Nicol.

The process of creating the NAP has been intensive; the Steering Committee held weekly meetings since the beginning of March 2014 to April 2014. The process stated with sensitization before consultation, an approach which became an innovation in the OGP process. The Steering Committee agreed that the NAP should address three of the OGP’s grand challenges: increasing public integrity, more effective management of public resources, and improving corporate accountability. After a nationwide consultation held in all 14 districts, the challenge of improving service delivery was demanded for by citizens. Diaspora Consultations were also done in US, Belgium and UK taking cognisance of the migration nature of Sierra Leoneans and recognising their keen interests in the development of the country. The first NAP in Sierra Leone speaks to 11 bold commitments. Among the core commitments our NAP makes are: developing a public integrity policy; increasing visibility of performance contracts; performing subsequent assessments of key government institutions; and operationalizing the single treasury account by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development to improve accountability and management of government accounts. Instituting a culture of delivery and meeting stipulated timelines helped in producing a draft NAP in eight weeks. Sierra Leone endorsed a draft National Action Plan (NAP) for OGP in a ceremony led by President Ernest Bai Koroma having the political buy-in from the highest authority of the state. More than 300 government officials, paramount chiefs, civil society leaders, women and youth groups, and the general public attended the ceremony.

Building Trust and Confidence in CS/Government Partnership

In a situation where government and CSOs were critical of each other, finding a common ground to genuinely engage was never smooth. Coming to the realisation that both government and CS were part of the solution and not the problem became a reassuring starting point. The problem was systemic decadence that fuel corruption which needed to be changed. Each party began to see the OGP process as the starting point of a permanent consultation platform. It became clearer that CSOs now have a seat at the table and not a one-off consultation.

Conflict resolution mechanisms were quickly instituted to quell the tensions building. In the words of a lead Government Official attached to the OGP, Amadu Massally: ‘let’s proceed for love of the country’, this ultimately became the slogan during the action planning process and a way of resolving any contentious issue that warrants intense arguments. The OGP process is no longer about government improving communications with CSOs, but about CSOs and Government working together stimulating dialogue and instituting reforms. The engagement has now transformed CS view from a parochial to a participatory culture, we now have the space to push for legal and institutional policies, demand accountability and help citizens’ access information using ICT friendly opportunities. The first ever Open Data Portal as a national registry was launched in May actualising commitment 11 of the NAP.

Engaging in a mutually respectful manner through clear Rules of Engagement

It was agreed that a Permanent consultation forum between Government and Civil Society be established taking the form of a hybrid approach. First, the general forum through Monthly Meetings held on the 26th of every month. This was instituted after the submission of the NAP to benchmark on progress. Next the smaller forum in which a government and CS focal point was to lead each cluster of the grand Challenge covering the commitments of the NAP. Through this model key actors keep the dialogue going and follow-ups made through sectoral interests in line with the commitments in the NAP. The media is also represented at each Steering Committee meeting to report on key outcomes and progress on the NAP. The OGI and MCCU give administrative and technical support, whilst the steering committee makes and executes major decisions. The Sierra Leone model could best be described as a multi-stakeholder Consultation Platform for dialogue scrutiny and action.

In addition, appointed documentation as a critical mass of evidence in the process is a success story for the Sierra Leone OGP process. Reports, photos presentations meeting agendas and minutes are available for quick reference and learning.

Accountability through an established Monitoring Framework

An established monitoring framework is in place in at the end of each quarter starting from 2015; the Performance Management and Service Delivery Unit in the Office of the President drafts an evaluation report on the implementation of the NAP. A 7 day Quarterly national consultation process is held on the implementation of the OGP NAP as a way of closing the feedback loop with citizens, thus legitimizing the process. The Steering Committee then takes the real status report to all 14 districts making sure citizens are aware of the progress on the NAP. This arrangement helps in addressing the question of discretional transparency.

It is important to point out that in striving to ensure genuine partnership CS did not forget its traditional role of checks and balances. The CS groups in the steering committee instituted a Parallel Monitoring and Evaluation Process of the NAP having a well-designed tool to collect and verify data emerging from MDAs. In essence the OGP process now gives CSOs the legitimacy to question from within. More importantly it is a way of addressing the misnomer that a permanent consultation forum of CSOs and government like the OGP is a tactic for government to manage difficult CSOs.

Marcella is the Director of Programmes, Campaign for Good Governance (CGG) and Sierra Leone OGP Steering Committee Member

My Four Open Government Takeaways from Tanzania

By Francis Lansana

This year’s Open Government Partnership regional meeting for Africa was held last month in Dar es Salaam, under the theme “Enhancing Accountability through Open Governance”. The meeting included over 300 participants from across government, the private sector, civil society, academia and more, which brought a significant diversity of perspectives to the meeting. From the Liberian perspective- where we have faced challenges over time but have also made significant progress in building-out a 2nd implementation plan for the OGP- here are my four take-aways from Tanzania:

1. Set clear, achievable goals. Open government is a large, nebulous goal, and to make it actionable, countries need to narrow their focus. If the objectives are overly ambitious, promises will be left unfulfilled. Action plans should focus on areas where impact can easily be seen and are in line with the developments that citizens want to see. For example, in Liberia, as part of the 2nd action plan the Ministry of Information, Communications and Tourism (MICAT)- the lead agency on the OGP- and it’s civil society partners are focusing on citizen monitoring of the court system. Justice is a critical issue, and collecting information on the operation of the courts is a tangible and important step that will be welcomed by citizens.

2. Use people-centred technologies. Governments must tailor their information sharing strategies to the needs of the people they serve. We all know well that the world has become a global village as a result of improvements in technology. Citizens have become more engaged with their governments through social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. In Tanzania, the government has created an open data portal for information on government that citizens are using to improve their lives. Equally, however, low-tech tools should be used where access to the internet is still limited- as in Liberia. This is where efforts like the Daily Talk chalk billboards are important- to reach citizens regardless of their access to the web or newspapers.

3. Ensure government ownership. The OGP is about creating a medium for citizens to better understand and assess the performance and impact of governance. For this to happen effectively, governments must take the lead in communicating with their citizenry on a constant basis and show that they are committed to the process. This builds trust and facilitates further reform, in a self-reinforcing cycle of openness. In Sierra Leone, for example, the government has established the position of director for the Open Government Partnership. Tanzania too has created a new position for an OGP focus person who works directly with the President’s office. These key contact points can coordinate efforts, ensure constant and harmonized communication and build momentum for the efforts to support transparency.

4. Collaborate and share ideas. No one country has the answers to open government; and the path taken by the West is understandably very different to that taken by OGP member countries in Africa. As a result, it is essential that African countries share ideas with each other and learn from the progress each is making in its own ways- both within governments but also across civil society. That is why the meeting in Tanzania was so important- I had the opportunity, for example, to learn from Ministers in Freetown about how they have coordinated across government on transparency issues; and to discuss options for transparency tools from civil society colleagues from Dar es Salaam. This is invaluable insight as we take the process forward in Liberia. At the Accountability Lab, we are also excited to use the new OGP Explorer– which brings together a wealth of data on the commitments, challenges and successes within the OGP- to see where Liberia measures up to other African countries and how we can learn from their progress to date.

Now that I have been back in Liberia for a few weeks and have had time to reflect on all of this, I am filled with a renewed sense of energy and excitement around the OGP process. We have a Minister who has demonstrated clear commitment to the initiative, and a group of civil society actors who are coming together in constructive ways to support open government. We will validate our new action plan soon and hope that at the next OGP meeting Liberia can be talked about as the pioneer of open government in Africa.

Francis Lansana is an Accountability Resident with the Accountability Lab in Liberia.

Ghana’s absence at the OGP Africa regional meeting: did it matter?

By Ugonna Ukaigwe

The Open Governance Partnership (OGP) is a voluntary multi-stakeholder initiative that began in 2011 with the aim of securing concrete commitments from government to their citizenry to promote transparency, accountability, active citizen participation, and the use of technology and innovation to strengthen governance. Since the initiative began in 2011, the OGP has grown from 8 participating countries to 65 countries, including 8 countries from the African continent. Among the 8 countries only three are from West Africa – Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone. As part of the OGP requirements, governments are to work with civil societies to ensure the successful implementation of open governance reforms in their various countries.

The just concluded OGP Africa Regional Meeting held in Tanzania from May 20th – 21st brought together civil society groups and representatives from the Government of Sierra Leone, Liberia, Tanzania and Kenya to mention but a few. The Ghana Government however was not represented at the meeting. Some critics have argued that the OGP is a smokescreen that provides good PR for governments that have no real intention to reform. While there may be an iota of truth in this argument, the difficulty one may have is determining when a country is merely engaging in PR and when there is a real genuine commitment to ensure open, transparent and accountable institutions.

The Africa Regional meeting discussed critical issues such as ongoing open governance reforms, civil society-government relations under the OGP, access to information and public participation amongst others. In all these discussions the Ghana Government was conspicuously absent. Ghana’s absence was made particularly obvious mainly because she did not make much progress in the implementation of the first national action plan even though there was strong civil society involvement in the development of the action plan

Ghana embarked on a path of sustained political liberalization and democratization in the early 90s with a multi-party democratic system which has been maintained for two decades.  This has contributed in the country being seen as the beacon of democracy in Africa. Ghana currently enjoys the enviable reputation of being one of Africa’s most democratic, stable, peaceful and best governed countries.  The questions then are: what is the implication of Ghana’s absence at the OGP Africa Regional Meeting? What signals does Ghana’s absence at the meeting send to other OGP participating countries in the region including potential participants?

Peer review and learning processes in Africa provide an opportunity for countries to assess themselves and learn from each other; however, countries that have not made much progress in terms of promoting citizens participation and facilitating citizens access to information often cite other countries with poor governance / access to information records as examples to justify their non-progressive status and to show that they are not doing badly after all. Ghana’s poor performance in the implementation of the first national action plan coupled with her absence at the OGP Africa Regional meeting is a pointer to the level of commitment on the part of government towards the OGP processes. Ghana in her first national action plan committed to passing the Right to Information Bill which is currently in Parliament, the Code of Conduct for Public officers Bill, the National Broadcasting Bill, and the preparation and passage of a Fiscal Responsibility Act, but none of these legislation materialized after two years of implementation of the action plan.

Ghana’s shinning democratic credentials demand that she must at all times be the torch bearer and pace setter for other countries particularly in West Africa. Where this is not the case, the first assumption will be that the country has become complacent which in reality may not be the case.  The questions then are: how does Ghana’s poor performance in the OGP action plan implementation coupled with absence at the OGP Africa Regional Meeting encourage eligible countries such as Nigeria, to join the OGP? How does it support and encourage non-eligible African countries to advance reforms to meet the OGP eligibility criteria. How does the country’s performance and participation motivate other countries to continue in the progressive part and prevent a possible retrogression given that their beacon of democracy didn’t do so much after all?

The OGP in itself is not an event; it is a process that requires continuous engagement and sustained efforts to ensure concrete reforms at the country level. That is why CSOs at the regional meeting adopted a statement calling on the Governments of participating African countries including Ghana to adopt comprehensive access to information laws that would empower their citizens and help them understand government better (See link to the statement: http://www.opengovpartnership.org/sites/default/files/attachments/OGPAfricanCivilSocietyStatement.pdf. Ghana cannot relent in her efforts at ensuring open governance. Ghana must not only be quick to endorse such progressive initiatives but must also be seen to be taking part and engaging vigorously with other stakeholders at all levels of the OGP processes. As a key stakeholder in the OGP, Ghana must continue to engage extensively with civil society groups particularly in the development of the second NAP and also ensure that civil society is given the space to monitor the implementation of the plan. This is because, as the saying goes, ‘uneasy lies the head that wears the crown’.