Recently the Government of Croatia hosted the Second Open Government Partnership (OGP) European Outreach and Support Meeting in Dubrovnik, Croatia. We kicked off the two-day event with a networking session to connect representatives from 16 governments in the region to nine access to information experts registered with the Networking Mechanism. This was the first in a series of planned events in our strategy to make the Networking Mechanism an active matchmaking agent between governments and experts to facilitate the implementation of country commitments.
In keeping with the ‘experimental’ spirit of OGP, we tested a different engagement approach to bring about fruitful conversations between government representatives and open government experts. The idea was to move beyond the tired panel discussion format and focus on facilitating outcomes-oriented individual conversations around key access to information themes, including legislative reform, proactive disclosure, enforcement and monitoring, records management, civil society engagement, ICTs, and government implementation.
The session started with governments sharing challenges faced in implementing their Access to Information commitments, followed by experts responding with their thoughts on prioritizing and addressing those challenges. Those two sessions served as a departure point for countries to speak individually with experts.
Netherlands and Finland commented on their experience of implementing open data projects with an enthusiasm unmet by civil society, prompting a government participant to question if open data is a ‘solution without a problem.’ Norway expressed a concern of backsliding due to the growing perception that “transparency has gone too far” in their country. Others such as Armenia commented on low levels of participation, lack of resources, and a dearth of expertise delaying basic reforms. Spain and Albania spoke about drafting Right to Information laws.
Participants had encouraging advice to share with the rest of the group as they move forward with implementing their commitments. The Scottish Information Commissioner Rosemary Agnew spoke about enforcement within the Access to Information context as the key to change. She encouraged governments to build enforcement processes from the beginning and to view enforcement as a trust-building mechanism by making citizens aware of their rights. Charlotte Hodridge from the UK government, currently a co-chair country for OGP, advised governments to “make data relevant to the user.” Nikhil Dey of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), India, a civil society member of the OGP Steering committee, stressed the need to talk about the use of information based on a citizen-centric prioritization of information needs. He highlighted ways for governments to stimulate information use, including reaching out to citizens offline and using low-tech platforms for information exchange. He emphasized institutionalizing participation through different means, like public audits to strengthen access to information mechanisms’ role in open government.
Positive participant feedback and the willingness of governments to talk about issues and seek potential solutions for implementing OGP commitments confirmed the value of facilitated face-to-face exchanges, a priority for the Networking Mechanism. We were happy to get feedback on the session and hope to use that to refine our approach for future events, so that the Networking Mechanism can serve as a useful resource for OGP countries. You can learn more about and register to join the Networking Mechanism here.
The energy and enthusiasm in the room was encouraging and clearly demonstrated the power of the OGP to strengthen open government efforts globally.
— Abhinav Bahl & Nicole Anand
— Image Credit: Abhinav Bahl