What to Watch for in Brasilia 2012

(Editor's note: this was first posted over at the Open Gov Blog.)

Sadly, I won’t be able to join the hundreds of friends and colleagues attending the Open Government Partnership’s high-level meeting later this month in Brasilia. My wife and I are expecting our second daughter on or around April 22nd, so unless someone is willing to pay for a divorce lawyer to meet me on the tarmac back at Washington International Dulles Airport, I won’t be stepping on a plane any time soon. (Two of my colleagues at Global IntegrityNicole Anand and Abhinav Bahl, will be flying the flag for us, including moderating two panels on Day 2.)

Since I won’t be there to distract people in person, I thought I’d share some advance thoughts on what I would look for in terms of the people, politics, and issues that are most important to the success of both the Brasilia event and the next few years of OGP.

The Action Plans: Rhetoric or Substance?

OGP will either flourish or perish based on the quality of the country Action Plans and the willingness of OGP governments to implement them in the coming years. The 40-plus new country Action Plans to be unveiled in Brasilia are extremely important. The original eight Steering Committee government Action Plans were generally a mixed bag; some good, some weaker, some light on substance while high on vague rhetoric. The Steering Committee governments had the excuses of “too little time” (basically four months to assemble their Action Plans last spring) and “too new” (no one had written an OGP Action Plan before). Since then, the 40-plus new governments have received much more support and guidance around the desired content of their Action Plans, including a dedicated working-level meeting in Brasilia this past December.

The Steering Committee: Who’s Next?

I attribute much of OGP’s early success (or at least momentum-building) to the personal relationships that have been forged by the government and CSO representatives serving on the OGP Steering Committee. All are savvy, practical, and have mutual respect for one another. That’s why the next wave of Steering Committee members, both CSOs and governments, is so crucial. In my view, the OGP steering committee will continue to function well as long as there is a high level of personal trust and familiarity between the Steering Committee reps. This suggests two things: 1) the next crop of Steering Committee members should have some degree of pre-existing relationships amongst themselves, and 2) it may be unwise to bring onto the Steering Committee NGOs and/or governments that have no experience working with “the other side.”

One of the outcomes of Brasilia will be for the OGP plenary to endorse the steering committee-drafted governance policy for OGP, which includes a framework for how OGP governments and OGP NGOs nominate steering committee candidates from their respective caucuses. The early politicking around this should be fascinating, and I’m disappointed I won’t be there to watch it in person!

New Stories and New Champions

A real risk that OGP runs is to recycle the same set of stories and open government champions, year after year, to a point where the “cannon” of open government begins to ring hollow. I love hearing the UK  tell its story about opening up National Health Service data in a way that dramatically improved medical provider accountability, but after the fifth time of hearing it I start to tune out. I would watch carefully for new stories and new reformers in Brasilia — what new faces are folks talking about, and what have they done that’s so innovative? My early bets would be on the NGOs and governments from Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans, many of which have been doing some fascinating open government work that has largely flown under the international radar.

Movers and Shakers

Here are some people I’d buy drinks for:

·       Alan Hudson — Alan runs governance for the ONE campaign. If ONE chose to engage heavily with OGP, it could be a game changer in many respects.

·       Martin Tisne — Martin just left his job running the Transparency and Accountability donor collaborative (a key financial supporter of OGP) and is the newly minted policy director for the Omidyar Network; he’ll also serve on the OGP steering committee as the TAI rep. I’d ask him about what he sees as the future of TAI post-2012…and how long OGP can count on its support.

·       Chris Vein — Chris helps to run all things tech and open government for the White House. I don’t know Chris well but I’d love to hear about what President Obama’s plans are for the next phase of  open government initiatives in the US should he be reelected in November.

·       Roberta Solis Ribeiro — The key staffer supporting Brazilian minister Hage on OGP, and working-level host of the meeting. She’ll be exhausted and burned out, which is reason enough to buy her a beer. She’s also incredibly nice.

·       Julie McCarthy — Julie is the #1 most important contact within OGP as director of the OGP Support Unit. Want to get something done within the context of OGP? Make sure Julie is your friend.

A Good Cup of Coffee

If you find one in Brasilia — actually, anywhere in Brazil — please let me know. I’d be stunned. I’ll be watching as much of the proceedings as I can via livestream, so no monkey business!

— Nathaniel Heller

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