By Nathaniel Heller — March 19, 2014.
The always-thoughtful Matin Tisne raises some important questions and ideas about ways in which the Open Government Partnership (OGP), and open government evangelists generally (this author included), can better appeal to and work with private sector actors.
I too have been wrestling with the same question as of late, prompted in part by some within OGP looking to make a renewed push on private sector engagement. Martin’s ideas are an excellent jumping off point. Here I want to simply add a layer of complexity to some of the proposals in an effort to keep the discussion going.
One of the suggestions many are floating is investing in, “for-profit companies that have government transparency and civic engagement at the core of their business plan.” SeeClickFix is often invoked, but there are other examples out there. The current reality here is unfortunately underwhelming. To my knowledge, there are few (if any?) examples of these companies going to scale in a meaningful way; by which I mean making real money and expanding their business. Take a read through this old Global Integrity interview with one of the founders of Citivox for a reality check on the actual upside and growth curves inherent to these businesses.
Another common sense proposal over the years has been to, “engage financial institutions, ratings agencies and provide clear evidence on the link between open governance and better investment climates.” Global Integrity started an entire business line around this exact concept nearly four years ago… and we spun it off due to lack of success last summer. The reality we encountered in the market is that roughly 99% of investors could care less about open governance. Take out Calvert and some of the crunchy northern European pension funds and you get to 100% fairly quickly. On a really good day, some investors can be motivated to care about transparency of the rules of the game in a given market (e.g., can I defend my stake in a timber-producing forest parcel in court?) but beyond that we never saw any real interest in the open government agenda. Here was our crack at laying out the argument; perhaps others can improve upon it.
So what are my bright ideas for engaging the private sector more significantly in the open government agenda? I don’t have any! So either a) I am not as bright as much smarter folks who can come up with better ideas (entirely plausible!), or b) perhaps we should be asking more existential questions about the primacy of openness for businesses. I’m hoping for (a) but keep running up consistently against (b).
Have better ideas?! Sound off in the comments or on Twitter (@GlobalIntegrity).
Photo Credit: Sebastiaan ter Burg (Flickr: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic)