Michael Moses
Michael Moses

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 the Philippines.

To accomplish this aim, the study revolves around two specific themes: the institutionalization of the open government agenda and the Bottom-Up Budgeting (BuB) reform program in the Philippines, 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 nature and continuity of state–civil society engagement in that agenda. By investigating the links between BuB and OGP explore whether and how OGP was factored into the implementation of a specific successful open government reform program. Our study recognizes that inputs, implementation, outcomes, and feedback in the reform process all exist in a given political context that shapes all aspects of that process, including how and why an international initiative, like the OGP, is leveraged.

The study uses interviews, focus groups, and relevant literature to investigate the themes above, and to contextualize the journey of open governance efforts in the Philippines. It finds that at least some key reformers leveraged OGP to:

1) Ensure consistent and regular attention to open government reforms, and to withstand criticisms and distraction from scandals;

2) Validate the administration’s good governance credentials and win and maintain international support, earning international and domestic political legitimacy in the process;

3) Recruit and mobilize other reform champions in the bureaucracy and facilitate coordination with other agencies, thus enhancing the strength of reformers in the government; and

4) Serve as a mechanism for regular and consistent monitoring that improved the government’s accountability over some of its open government commitments.

Conversely, OGP’s inputs were of limited value in improving the ability of stakeholders to navigate the local open government journey or re-balancing power through new forms of collective action. Indeed, as demonstrated by the BuB experience, the OGP has not been leveraged to substantively broaden, deepen, or transform the open government agenda in the country or to achieve concrete results in specific reform programs that would have otherwise not been achieved. The open government reform agenda items pursued through the OGP were already included in the government’s priorities and plans. Therefore, even without the OGP, reforms like the BuB would have received the same emphasis. In addition, while OGP’s inputs (e.g., technical peer ii exchange visits, awards, and regional events) have been leveraged to contribute to top-level processes and requirements, the value OGP added to BuB was not integral to local-level situations, nor did it influence the local–national dynamics that did feed into the success of BuB.

This case therefore shows that although OGP has played a minor political role at the national level, its inputs and processes are inadequate and limited in the extent that they reach the sub-national and local levels. Here, reform involves the highly nuanced and dynamic engagement of local actors from and between civil society, national government agencies, and local governments whose commitment and capacity to, and the appreciation of, pursue open government reforms vary widely between geographical spaces and sectors.