Open government champions in Mexico face significant challenges at the federal and state levels. The federal open government partnership process stalled after the espionage carried out by the previous administration and only recently got back on track. At the same time, open government processes in many states have stalled (see short summary of recent subnational open government work in Mexico). Despite these setbacks, many leaders in government, access-to-information institutes, and civil society remain committed to advancing the open government agenda.
I had the pleasure of joining many of these leaders at the Second Mexican Open Government Summit in May 2019. The summit was a great opportunity to reconnect with Global Integrity partners, including our good friends at Instituto Nacional de Transparencia, Acceso a la Información (INAI) and GESOC, explore how we can build on our ongoing work together in Mexico, and further support reformers in their efforts to drive progress toward more open government and better fiscal governance in states and municipalities across Mexico.
During the Summit, I had the chance to present as part of the following sessions:
- A panel on practical tools and methods to strengthen local co-creation spaces, where I shared the stage with Carmen Alvarez from Chihuahua. We discussed how to build trust between government and civil society, especially after major corruption scandals, in order to incorporate citizen demands into the public agenda and secure public resources for the implementation of open government processes. (View video (Spanish))
- A workshop on co-creating fiscal governance commitments in which we and our partners from INAI, GESOC, and Karewa – a civil society organization from Chihuahua – facilitated a short workshop to introduce our Treasure Hunt method and surface ideas about how it might be used to facilitate the design and implementation of fiscal governance initiatives.
I was able to reflect on, and share lessons from, Global Integrity’s years of subnational open government work in Mexico supporting local and federal partners trying to strengthen fiscal governance (see box below for more information). A few key lessons are worth sharing here:
- Dealing with power means making the political personal. Open government processes offer an opportunity to bring new issues to the agenda and tackle local challenges. To take advantage of such opportunities, however, it’s important to identify and explicitly work to win the support of potential allies in particular sectors, organizations, and government departments. Doing this means paying attention to and shaping the interpersonal relationships between actors.
- Balance what is ideal with what is feasible. It’s important to balance the vision of what success in addressing a local challenge would look like with the steps that can be feasibly taken during the timeline of an open government plan. Honesty and clarity about what is possible can enable open processes of co-creation that can build the groundwork for delivering results that matter to people.
- Begin with problems that matter to people, not with solutions that have been used elsewhere. Beginning with practical problems that people want to solve opens dialogue with more stakeholders and enables local champions to engage and rally behind those already working on those problems. Taking this perspective also opens up opportunities to broaden inclusion by clearly identifying and bringing in those directly affected by the problems in ways that matter to them – which will often be totally different from formal open government spaces.
- Open government is more than launching action plans and commitments In some of the states where we supported local partners, open government processes stalled or collapsed. Yet, the co-creation spaces and the momentum achieved by local reformers led to the implementation of useful initiatives to promote the use of open data, strengthen citizen participation, and generate local impact. In other words, do not wait until the process is finalized to take action and do not limit your actions to what is agreed upon in the action plans.
Where do we go from here?
In recent years we have seen the demand for the use of the approach we’ve applied in Mexico grow steadily. Several of our Mexican partners are using our Treasure Hunt method to tackle additional issues in their contexts, and other partners (such as open government fellows in 11 additional states) are exploring opportunities to leverage open government processes to access and use open fiscal data to address local challenges.
We also have begun to explore opportunities to build a wider and stronger network of partners following the money in Mexico and beyond.
If you would like to know more about this work, how you can use it in your context and share and learn from peers facing similar challenges, please do not hesitate to reach out to me via email at [email protected] or on Twitter @J_florezh and @globalintegrity.
Global Integrity has been working in support of Mexican open government champions, including at the state level, since 2015, helping them to open and use data about the flow of public resources to address challenges faced by citizens in their everyday lives. Along with INAI, we designed and tested the Treasure Hunt method as a way to help citizens explore the extent to which they can use public information and open data to trace and shape the use of public resources in order to address specific sectoral challenges. This agenda is known in Mexico as “follow the money.” In tandem with this work, we began to advocate for and support the design and implementation of “Follow the Money” commitments in state-level open government action plans. To date, 10 states have co-created 15 such commitments, with several more in the works.
In 2017, Global Integrity partnered with INAI and GESOC to provide deeper support to partners in Chihuahua, Durango, Sonora, Veracruz, and Zacatecas, aiming to accomplish the following:
This work is messy and difficult. However, despite a variety of challenges (such as navigating political transitions and a complicated electoral environment, balancing local ownership with project timelines, and facilitating cooperation among local stakeholders with very different priorities and perspectives), we helped our partners make significant progress toward achieving better fiscal governance. Key results include the following:
INAI, GESOC, and Global Integrity have just launched two guidance documents capturing some of our experiences, from which citizens and officials in municipalities and states across Mexico can learn how to Follow the Money in their contexts.