This study aims to determine whether and how the Open Government Partnership (OGP) has been leveraged to promote a more accountable, open, and responsive government in Costa Rica.
To accomplish this aim, the study examines two specific themes: the institutionalization of the open government agenda in Costa Rica and the attempt to unify the e-procurement system, and the extent to which OGP was leveraged in each of these processes. In examining the institutionalization of the open government agenda, we focus in particular on how reformers working on this issue leveraged OGP to expand the scope, sustainability, and quality of state–civil society engagement on that agenda. By investigating the linkages between e-procurement reforms and OGP we are able to explore whether and how OGP was a factor in the implementation of a specific reform program, and whether it provides support to advocates working on a much-needed reform in Costa Rica’s contemporary political landscape.
Using interviews and a thorough review of relevant literature and documents, we find that, so far, OGP inputs have provided at best modest leverage for a select group of reformers working to institutionalize the open government agenda and, especially, to broaden the scope of open government issues in the country. On the other hand, inputs have been far less useful for improving the capacity of reformers to navigate the open government journey in Costa Rica, especially as so few stakeholders, both inside and outside the government, have bought into the OGP process, and because the learning process started over when the government changed hands. Likewise, with the exception of some minor victories achieved through leveraging OGP events, the initiative has not yet been deployed to build effective coalitions and reshape power balances in the country. This is shown by the experience of the Costa Rica Open Government Commission, which is still dominated by a few government actors. Moreover, the negotiation towards the composition of the Commission concentrated the energies of most stakeholders on the formal structure of the OGP process while, in the meantime, substantive actions were neglected until the last half of 2015.
These trends play out clearly in the case of the e-procurement reform effort that, despite being an OGP commitment in the first national action plan, was unsuccessful. This case shows that the value added by OGP to Costa Rica’s gradualist political environment has so far been limited.