Michael Moses
Michael Moses

This paper summarizes and synthesizes the findings from five in-depth case studies that explore when and how pro-reform actors have been able to leverage the Open Government Partnership (OGP) — its processes, spaces and resources — to pursue improved government responsiveness and accountability at the country level. It is one of a number of recent efforts to explore the contribution of OGP to more open and effective governance. Our research, undertaken by teams of local open government experts in five countries, covers Albania, Costa Rica, Mexico, the Philippines and Tanzania.

This paper, and the case studies that serve as its source material, are not an evaluation of OGP, nor do they speak to OGP’s role in motivating a global movement toward openness, something that is an important part of OGP’s overall approach but which was not part of our assignment. Rather, we focus on lessons and reflections distilled from case studies about how OGP is playing out, in practice, in five particular contexts. Our aim is to contribute to a richer understanding of whether and how national reformers use OGP in their efforts to make progress toward more open government, in order to inform action by OGP stakeholders at the global and country levels.

As is to be expected with any initiative that intends to tackle deep-seated governance challenges, questions about the effectiveness of OGP are being asked and considered. Evidence from our country case studies indicates that OGP processes in these countries, to date, are contributing only marginally to efforts to open government. At least some pro-reform actors are leveraging OGP to achieve more open government at the country level. However, the extent to which their use of OGP enables them to rebalance power or apply lessons learned in OGP processes to increase the effectiveness of their efforts in other areas of work remains limited. There appear to be risks in relying too heavily on investments in high level political support. And perhaps unsurprisingly, pro-reform actors seem to make more of OGP in countries where they are able to link OGP to pre-existing political, institutional and organizational conditions that are already favorable to substantive collaboration between segments of the state and civil society. OGP as yet seems to have little purchase on those conditions. These findings are in line with recent research on the effectiveness of multi-stakeholder initiatives, and transparency and accountability initiatives more broadly.

This synthesis paper proceeds as follows: in Section II, we introduce our approach and analytical framework, laying out three plausible, though unstated (by OGP), pathways through which pro-reform stakeholders both in and outside of government at the country and international levels, might leverage OGP inputs to drive progress toward more open governance. The pathways are:

  1. High level political leadership;
  2. Collective action to rebalance power;
  3. Learning to navigate politics.

By investing in these pathways, OGP could reasonably expect to contribute to meaningful open government reforms. As such, the pathways provide a lens for framing and distilling the evidence from the case studies, allowing us to better understand and compare how OGP is playing out in different contexts.

In Section III, we examine the evidence from the case studies with respect to each pathway. For each, we first lay out the hypothesis under which OGP could expect to contribute through that pathway, and in doing so enable reformers to more successfully agitate for open government reforms. Second, we present lessons, derived from the cases, on how a given mechanism is functioning in practice. Third, we provide reflections on how OGP might more successfully deliver on its goals. Our hope is that these reflections can enable learning and adaptation that help lay the groundwork for OGP to maximize its impact and effectiveness. We conclude in Section IV.