Open Government beyond OGP: Reflections from Veracruz, Mexico

Michael Moses
2 Comments

January 16, 2019

Michael Moses, Managing Director for Programs and Learning

Our Program Officer at the Hewlett Foundation, David Sasaki, was tweeting recently about the Open Government Partnership (OGP), as part of the conversation spurred by this piece by Alex Howard. David, who knows Mexico very well having worked there for a number of years, was curious about how to interpret the fact that Mexican states, like Veracruz, are creating open government action plans, even though they’re not officially part of OGP, while the US – a founding member of the Partnership – has failed to produce a new national action plan (NAP) in 2019.

Veracruz, to provide some background, is part of the “Open Government: Co-creation from the local” initiative1, organized by INAI, the National Institute of Transparency, Access to Information, and Personal Data Protection (See here for a post from the 2015 kick-off of the initiative, and here for a post from a 3-years-in reflection in April 2018). David concludes that the relative success of this open government initiative in Mexico, “could be interpreted positively … or negatively,” with regard to OGP as a whole.

I think Veracruz is a positive example. But before assessing whether the experience of Veracruz has negative or positive implications for OGP as a whole, I’d suggest there’s value first in reflecting on how things have played out in Veracruz, and the factors that have contributed to the relative success of open government work there, even in a local environment riddled with corruption and impunity. From our engagement in Veracruz2 – I’d suggest that three elements are key:

One, problems drive the process. Our partners in Veracruz – at the state level audit institution ORFIS, and in the local association of public accountants, among others – didn’t decide they wanted to do an open government action plan, and then go hunting for problems to which to apply that action plan. Rather, they worked with local citizens and groups to identify some key local challenges around public service delivery, and then developed a process to address those challenges, with the action plan providing a framework for mutual commitment and accountability.

Two, learning – including learning about the distribution of power – is at the center of the Veracruz approach to problem-driven action planning. Complex problems – corruption in public works, and local infrastructure failures – don’t have simple, technocratic answers. At their heart, they are about patterns of incentives and political dynamics. So our partners in Veracruz have built regular cycles of action, reflection, and learning into their action plan process, so that they can find ways of navigating and shaping those dynamics, step by step, cycle by cycle.

Three, learning powers adaptation. When partners have reflected on how things were going, and identified emerging lessons, they have then fed those lessons into course corrections, which have helped them stay on track for effectiveness and impact.

Veracruz – despite not being part of OGP – demonstrates how effective open government work can be done, even in the absence of high-level political commitment, or official OGP accreditation: through locally-led, problem-driven cycles of action, learning, and adaptation. The open government process in Veracruz isn’t a panacea – corruption is still rampant, violence is common – but it does provide at least a sliver of light in a somewhat dark governance context.

In contrast, the US NAP process – more technocratic, fueled mostly by high-level political commitment – lacks support from the Trump administration, and is effectively moribund at the national level (though there are plenty of examples of great open government work subnationally, including in Austin – part of the OGP local program).

So what’s the lesson here? I think it’s this: those of us working to address governance challenges should focus on facilitating the emergence of more Veracruz-like examples, in which local reformers are supported in crafting solutions to the problems that they prioritize. Conversely, let’s spend less energy on securing high-level political buy-in for processes in search of problems. Or, even better, let’s make sure that international initiatives that are established to promote more open and effective governance – OGP, EITI, and others – are totally focused on supporting locally-led efforts to address locally-prioritized problems, and explicitly designed to support the learning and adaptation through which more sustainable reforms might emerge.

*Many thanks to my colleague Jorge Florez, who leads Global Integrity’s work on open government, fiscal governance and data use in Veracruz, in 4 other Mexican states, and in many other places too, Alan Hudson, our Executive Director, and our partner Ricardo Valencia from INAI for generous feedback on this piece.


1 There are lots of positive stories from this initiative – check out the examples our friends at INAI have collated here.

Our open government work in Mexico was supported initially by the Omidyar Network’s Governance and Citizen Engagement team (now called Luminate), and more recently by OSF’s Fiscal Governance Program. It involved close collaboration with INAI, IMCO and GESOC, as well as local partners at state and municipal levels.

Michael Moses
Michael Moses
Managing Director, Programs and Learning

2 comments on “Open Government beyond OGP: Reflections from Veracruz, Mexico

  • David Sasaki says:

    Michael, thanks for the post. For each of the three lessons you’ve extracted, it would be helpful if you could provide one anecdote. What was a concrete problem that was identified by citizens and how was it addressed by the 2016-2017 action plan? How have learnings from that process been incorporated into current discussions for a 2019-2020 action plan?

    You write: “our partners in Veracruz have built regular cycles of action, reflection, and learning into their action plan process, so that they can find ways of navigating and shaping those dynamics, step by step, cycle by cycle.” Can you give an example of how this will happen with a specific commitment? How did the actors “learn about the distribution of power?” And what are they doing now that power structure of Veracruz’s state government has shifted from PAN to MORENA?

    You write: “partners have reflected on how things were going, and identified emerging lessons, they have then fed those lessons into course corrections, which have helped them stay on track for effectiveness and impact.” Can you give a concrete example?

    More broadly, you seem to be advocating for the OGPx model that Martin and Julie wrote about back in 2015. If so, what should OGP’s role be in franchising? Is there a coordinating role for the federal government? In Mexico, is there a role for Irma Sandoval and the federal government?

    Reply
    • Michael Moses says:

      David – thanks for the comment, and my apologies for the delay in responding. To your questions (responses from me and Jorge):

      You ask, “What was a concrete problem that was identified by citizens and how was it addressed by the 2016-2017 action plan? How have learnings from that process been incorporated into current discussions for a 2019-2020 action plan? Can you give an example of how this will happen with a specific commitment? How did the actors “learn about the distribution of power?”

      Our partners at the Veracruz Access to Information Institute (IVAI) facilitated the 2016-2017 open government action plan process. It was pretty messy. The corrupt state government – and especially the executive branch – was the focal point of the action plan, with state agencies responsible for the design and implementation of open government commitments. And despite several commitments on public infrastructure, including on health infrastructure, state agencies made very little progress implementing those commitments.

      IVAI learned quite a bit from that experience. Most importantly, they realized that relying on the state’s executive branch was not the best route for achieving success. So in the discussions around the new action plan, we, with INAI and GESOC, helped IVAI to identify and partner with municipal authorities, independent government agencies (like ORFIS, mentioned in the post), and non-governmental groups across the state, in order to develop and implement useful commitments that would address issues citizens cared about.

      For example, ORFIS, a group of citizens, academics, and professional groups, jointly identified the poor state of public infrastructure across the state as an issue they wanted to address. Specifically, this multistakeholder group struggled to understand how much money was being spent on public works, what it was being spent on, on what basis spending decisions were made, and whether projects were being delivered effectively.

      They decided on a commitment to support the production and use of data on 16,000 public works projects in more than 200 municipalities throughout Veracruz. They also came up with several implementation ideas. These ranged from upgrading photographic public works reporting systems to strengthening participatory budgeting mechanisms. Process participants also mapped out potential obstacles, technical (like the feasibility of developing tools for improving the quality and quantity of published data) and political (such as a lack of willingness on the part of key municipal authorities, etc). This helped them get a handle on issues like power dynamics (and changes in power) they might need to try to address, and monitor, during implementation (more detail on the implementation process here: http://www.orfis.gob.mx/gobierno-abierto/).

      You ask, “And what are they doing now that power structure of Veracruz’s state government has shifted from PAN to MORENA? You write: ‘partners have reflected on how things were going, and identified emerging lessons, they have then fed those lessons into course corrections, which have helped them stay on track for effectiveness and impact.’ Can you give a concrete example?”

      As noted above, the previous action plan cycle faced many challenges – in large part due to being overly dependent on the state-level government. So for the new iteration of the action plan, IVAI worked very hard to apply that lesson. They’ve secured the engagement of independent agencies, like ORFIS, and municipal level actors, such as the city of Veracruz, as well as universities, electoral authorities, citizens, and civil society organizations. This has enabled them to sustain participation in and implementation of the new action plan, even as MORENA takes charge of the state administration.

      You ask, “More broadly, you seem to be advocating for the OGPx model that Martin and Julie wrote about back in 2015. If so, what should OGP’s role be in franchising? Is there a coordinating role for the federal government? In Mexico, is there a role for Irma Sandoval and the federal government?”

      I think our point is even broader than that.

      Today, most of the formal support OGP provides in-country reformers is focused on helping government points of contact navigate OGP processes and procedures, under the assumption that compliance with those processes will lead to successful implementation and impact. And lots of evidence, including from OGP itself, indicates that that assumption often fails to hold.

      I’ve written elsewhere (in this brief, from our L-MAVC work in 2016 and 2017, for example – https://www.globalintegrity.org/resource/lmavc-pb-2/) that OGP might be more effective if it instead did more to help local partners – in and outside of government – to work together to first understand, and then address, complex challenges in their local contexts.

      And it’s doing just that in Veracruz – the OGP Secretariat is advising INAI, and helping to support the open government process that INAI is leading. This kind of approach, in which OGP is not requiring formal compliance with existing OGP processes or procedures, but simply offering guidance and support to interested local actors, seems to effectively facilitate open government innovation, even (or especially) in challenging contexts. Perhaps because it leaves lots of space for local actors to figure out what kinds of open government processes suit their particular situations.

      I’m not sure how this kind of engaged, but very locally-led, process fits with the OGPx model – unpacking what that model would mean in practice is less than straightforward. The Mexican subnational experience certainly has some similarities with the Leaders’ Tier of the OGP Local program.

      And with regard to Irma Sandoval and the federal government, providing space for INAI and others to continue encouraging state-level action on open government is obviously important. In terms of specifics, though, I think figuring out how to answer that question well would take several blogposts, or even a book, given the spying scandal and the complicated nature of Mexico’s OGP experience. It’s definitely something we intend to continue exploring, including with our Mexican partners, and beyond. We’d love to discuss how to do that most effectively.

      Reply

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