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The OGP at Year One: Off the Ground - So Where Next?

BY David Eaves | Wednesday, October 3 2012

Image: OGP's website

Last week marked the one year anniversary of the launch of the Open Government Partnership. So what has been accomplished so far… and where are things headed?

The OGP’s biggest accomplishment has been to augment issues of transparency, technology and openness in the international arena. This is not to claim that the OGP has magically created more transparency, improved government use of technology or fostered greater openness, but it has caused politicians and policy makers — or more importantly, the machinery of various governments around the world to think about these issues — sometimes productively, and sometimes awkwardly, to talk about how they are engaging or promoting those ideals. The very fact that once a year (or every six months, depending on your perspective and country) politicians and public servants have to come together and update each other and a board of civil society stakeholders on progress towards their OGP action plans will hopefully mean that such thinking becomes something more tangible. This, along with the continued questions around the commitment of some of its member governments to the principles they signed on to, will be one of the key ways the OGP will be judged in year two.

But pushing these issues to the front of the international agenda is no small accomplishment, especially because it has already had secondary effects: some policy innovation, friendly competition around openness (in its various disputed forms and meanings), spreading best practices, networking together various civil society stakeholders on these issues as well as foster some critical analysis.

This is not to claim that the OGP started this conversation. For example, the World Bank has been driving the use of transparency as an important component to development work and battling corruption for several years. But the OGP has both engaged a broader set of stakeholders in the conversations and raised the volume of the discussion. For those of us who believe that technology, openness, engagement and transparency have a role to play in rethinking how government works, this is not a terrible outcome, especially as a gauge of impact after a single year.

But this early success also hints at some big challenges ahead. The OGP is still in its infancy. How much it will do is still unclear. In addition, its agenda is exceedingly broad. This means a large number of stakeholders are in the tent — stakeholders that have little history of working together not just across international lines, but even domestically. Indeed, many civil society members, and governments, are drawn to the OGP for different reasons. Some want to address corruption, others economic growth, still others citizen engagement or improved service delivery or greater accountability. While many of these goals overlap they have not historically worked together. It will take skillful management to maintain an organization that allows for all the various stakeholders to feel like they are part of a process that can help them sufficiently advance their interests.

There remain real risks that the OGP will be captured by one of these communities, causing other important stakeholders to cease seeing it as a vehicle for their ambitions. While this might give the project more focus, it would shrink the number of stakeholders engaged, diminish the broader vision and fail to help civil society actors across related, but disconnected disciplines from building a broader coalition.

In some ways the OGP is like the infamous Spruce Goose: a plane so innovative and big, it was unclear if it could fly while carrying the large and diverse payload it was designed to hold. Thus having generated an international conversation (and sought to spur dozens of domestic conversations) about technology, transparency, openness and engagement can the OGP serve as a vehicle that can simultaneously satisfy the interest of all its stakeholders.

Herein lies the other big challenge for the OGP in year two. Having managed to get this large organization off the ground, can the OGP pilot itself somewhere useful, while keeping its various stakeholders onboard?

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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