Open government in Asia: What works, what doesn’t, and what can be improved

Published on Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Published by Haidy Ear-Dupuy on Tuesday, 22 September 2015

The OGP Global Summit will take place in Guadalajara, Mexico on 27-29 October, 2015.
The OGP Global Summit will take place in Guadalajara, Mexico on 27-29 October, 2015.

In the run-up to next month’s Open Government Partnership (OGP) Global Summit in Guadalajara, Mexico, ADB and the OGP support unit recently co-organized an Asia regional meeting for representatives from governments, civil society, and multilateral organizations to share what works, what remains a challenge, and what can be improved under the current OGP framework. It was apparent from the country reports given at the meeting that National Action Plans (NAPs) for open government are an excellent way to bring government and civil society together to advance transparency, accountability, citizen empowerment and innovative approaches to use technology to strengthen governance. Even if there is room to further deepen the engagement, the feedback from participants made it clear that the OGP process of jointly identifying and prioritizing reform initiatives to be included in the NAPs provided an excellent opportunity for collaboration. Repeated dialogues, debates, and conversations are great mechanisms to diffuse tension and build trust, but it’s a long-term process that requires much patience on both sides to foster purposeful engagement. And as the drafting of NAPs is every two years, interaction between government and civil society must be an ongoing process. The meeting also underscored the important role technology can play in bringing OGP core teams together to support reform initiatives. Georgia shared how the government’s Freedom of Information Law had led to the creation of multi-purpose community centers that provide public information, and at the same time serve as banking service centers and Internet cafés. Indonesia pointed out how citizens can now report public services deficiencies—and put pressure on responsible authorities to rectify them—through a new online system. We also learned about the participatory budgeting process, or bottom-up budgeting, in the Philippines, an initiative which invites NGOs and community groups to suggest how funds should be allocated in their communities. Representatives from several OGP countries discussed their successes and challenges of formulating and implementing their NAPs. Indonesia stressed that having a few significant and potentially transformative commitments in the NAP, followed by good implementation of the commitments, is more important than including too much into the NAP and running the risk of overreaching. Georgia noted that online consultation does not always work if it is not properly advertised. Mechanisms to ensure thorough outreach and awareness about the consultations to civil society at national as well as sub-national levels were pointed out as important. Moreover, civil society should have enough time to review the NAPs, and compile and submit their suggestions and inputs. The Republic of Korea underscored the importance of open data in keeping citizens informed, but expressed the need to build capacity of people to understand and analyze the information shared in order for the data to be used for more than just information sharing, such as informing research, and to hold decision makers accountable.Deepening the support for OGP at the national level remains one of the biggest challenges for OGP member countries. For instance, while the Philippines has one of the most comprehensive consultation processes between the government and civil society, it's a challenge to keep the OGP momentum going. Building and developing more partnerships to further expand OGP principles in the region is one way to address this problem. National elections can also be an obstacle for OGP members as individual champions of the OGP initiative, as a change of administration could mean the new government will push for new priorities. We must enshrine OGP principles into all institutions and governance structures so OGP can cement itself as a continuing priority in successive governments. It is not enough that institutions such as the anti-corruption agencies, internal audit, judiciary functions, and other checks and balance mechanisms already exist in many governments. That misses the point. We need to keep these institutions active and strong. By strengthening the capacity and voice of citizens to participate in public policy making and working together with traditional oversight institutions, increased governance gains can be made and overall development outcomes improved. Mobilizing resources for open government reform are still seen as a cost rather than an investment. Given that a more transparent and accountable government can help save money, the cost incurred to bring about better governance should be viewed as “smart money,” invested in building checks and balances, improved institutions, and developing national trust. We need more support for open government in Asia and the Pacific. NAPs require substantial financial and technical resources, but civil society and government can help each other to have robust public engagement. Here OGP countries can learn from the experiences of Indonesia and the Philippines in engaging with civil society to better “manage” that relationship. Multilateral institutions such as ADB can play a small role in helping governments and civil society create and implement NAPs. The nature of our overall engagement will be in a supporting role, by offering our technical expertise and knowledge to help OGP member countries advance their open government agendas.