During the week of May 27 to 31, the Global Summit of the Open Government Partnership took place in Ottawa, Canada. Governments, civil society and fans of transparency issues met to discuss the benefits of government openness. What did the conference leave us?

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The Open Government Partnership (OGP or Alliance for Open Government), is a multilateral initiative formed in 2008 at the suggestion of the President of the United States, Barack Obama before the General Assembly of the UN. Since then, the imprint of this ‘institution’ has been to get governments around the world to implement more and better public policies of transparency, openness and citizen participation.

Through action plans that last two years, the States commit themselves to design policies closer to the citizen’s reality, which transparent the acts of governments and allow social participation. It is about short and concrete actions, whose purpose is to achieve the construction of more solid, inclusive and reliable institutions.

The OGP, from its conception, carries out ‘Global Summits’ that serve as a space for the exchange of experiences and good practices in terms of open government. In 2019, the sixth summit was held, with more than 1000 participants from approximately 90 countries of the world and more than 80 panels of experts and experts.

However, after having toured the Summit and participated in the discussions, more questions and doubts appear, than answers. Although the spaces of the Global Summits serve to know the reality of open government in other parts of the world, the real objective is to ensure that this exchange provides tools to bring the government closer to the general public. The key idea has always been How to make government openness change people’s lives and bring solutions to current social problems?

This 2019, the panels and talks were very focused on the question of the principles of Open Government, rather than on the solutions that this paradigm can provide. In general terms, there was a feeling of ‘going back’ in the discussions, taking up old problems and leaving out important issues such as: health, the environment, climate change, public services, access to water, education, natural resources, among other rights. Although at one point, from OGP, the idea of starting to pay attention to the most concrete issues where a contribution could be made was promoted, this Summit did not seem to pick it up.
In 2017, at the Regional Summit for the Americas of OGP, the motto was to take a step forward with the idea of Open Government, to see concrete results. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be present in today’s discussions. Despite having managed to include the gender issue through the creation of the Feminist Open Government, there are still gaps to be addressed in human rights issues in general.
In 2019 the motto was ‘inclusion’. However, the Summit was not inclusive. Those that are intended to be included in open government discussions were not present in that space: indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples, vulnerable and marginalized groups, among others. Empowering those who are already empowered, does not make sense. Convincing those of us who are already convinced that open government works, either.

To achieve progress in this area, it is crucial to be able to include those who do not have access to technology, those whose rights are violated and those who do not have a voice when making decisions.

Within the debates of this year, the little and almost negligible number of commitments related to citizen participation and inclusion was highlighted. In spite of this, it was good to know that Latin America is the most powerful region in this regard, with more than half of the commitments in this area. It’s enough? No. There is still a long way to go and solve. Without going any further, Latin America is also the most dangerous region for human rights defenders.

In what way can open government correct this contradiction? We are the region that has made the most progress in terms of transparency, but the most dangerous for those who seek to participate in decision-making. The general levels of openness have improved, but people have never been more suspicious of institutions. The space of the Summit should have served to put these problems on the table.

It is important to be able to discuss what happens after transparency, what happens after the publication of data, how does that translate into higher quality, informed and participatory public policies? How can we be more inclusive and ensure that these policies represent all social groups? At the summit many problems were raised but few solutions. It is necessary to get governments committed to developing more transformative plans that strengthen the institutions from their foundations, and not initiatives of two years (or less) that then do not translate into stable practices. Again, how is the transcendence of open government achieved? How can we prevent this from becoming a passing fad that changes when the governments in power give way to new political actors?

By the year 2020, Argentina will have the presidency of OGP and the Global Summit will move here. It will be an excellent opportunity to include those who were not present this year, and to discuss the issues that take us away from our places of conformity and privilege. It is time for ‘open government’ to stop being something that is discussed in circles of ‘enlightened’ and elites, so that it finally achieves that those who should be included can participate effectively and without fear.

More information:

Global Summit of OGP 2019

Regional OGP Summit for the Americas 2017

Contact:

Agustina Palencia – agustinapalencia@fundeps.org