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Can the Open Government Partnership Avoid the Old E-Government Mistakes?

By Andrea Di Maio | September 06, 2011 | 0 Comments

open government data

Launched in July 2011, the Open Government Partnership

aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. In the spirit of multi-stakeholder collaboration

It is jointly governed by eight countries (United States and Brazil, – which are co-chairs – South Africa, the United Kingdom, Norway, Mexico, Indonesia and the Philippines)  and nine civil society organizations. It appears that eight more countries are willing to join: Kenya, Guatemala, Honduras, Albania, Macedonia, Malta, Georgia, Moldova and Slovakia.

Definitely an interesting initiative (see Alex Howard’s report on the third consultation), it needs to build both on similarities and differences. The difference in maturity across the different countries in those lists is quite significant. The US and the UK have been leading open government policies, and Norway has a typical culture of openness: also they are all at comparable levels of maturity when it comes to government IT. Other countries in the pack are either much smaller or more on the development side or both, which begs the question of where or – better – how open government sits among their priorities. Even looking at the two co-chairs, US and Brazil, differences are striking in terms of pace of growth, level of development, attitude toward IT sourcing.

Open government can be used to fight corruption, to increase the trust in government, to counterbalance the effects of excessive churn in government, to reduce the cost of government, and so forth. But in order to deliver on these different objectives, it does require different approaches.

The risk – like similar initiatives on e-government led by the UN or the EU have clearly shown – is that leading countries tend to showcase their approaches, which are almost automatically taken as best practices. But what is a best practice for a federal agency in the US or a large city in the UK may be either irrelevant or even counterproductive in a place like Moldova or Albania, just to name two.

Further, some of these initiatives are fueled by technology providers, who have an interest in replicating what they have piloted in a jurisdiction into several others.

Of course it is early to say whether and how the joint governance mechanism in the OGP will prevent such risks, but it is important for all participants to be acutely aware of those. Unfortunately starting with asking an open government declaration and using quite some of the US government jargon around open government does not help establish that diversity from the outset.

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