16 April 2011
The Open Government Partnership has its annual meeting in Brasilia this week. The eight founding states and 43 others that have joined the Open Government Initiative will be sharing their action plans.
A characteristic of the OGP is that community groups – civil society organisations – have participation rights alongside the member governments. The expectation is that this CSO participation will minimise the likelihood of the OGP becoming a talkfest of good intentions.
A big risk for the OGP is that governments want the feel good factor of taking part but will baulk at the reality. That is why membership requires scrutiny of country action plans by the wider organisation; and why the enthusiasm and expertise of CSOs is invited.
The Open Government blog, launched three weeks ago to promote OGP awareness, has a post from a Chilean commentator warning that aspirations may be frustrated. He is concerned about  
  • CSOs pushing too hard for an “all in” transparency agenda in action plans, provoking robust opposition from governments
  • governments that smile to the camera every-time the word “transparency” and “participation” is mentioned, but do not understand that “participation is about dialogues and not monologues, about agreements and not notifications”
  • governments, praised for their OGP, membership becoming uncomfortable when required to make concrete changes
  • replacing small cosmetic transparency policies in country action plans with real and substantive reforms
  • agreeing governance processes for implementing change without traditional legally binding international instruments
It may be that the New Zealand and Australian Governments have not shown interest to date because they anticipate that these challenges will neutralise the OGP. The United States media is not excited by the OGP either. At a briefing of the Secretary of State’s engagements for this week, including travelling to the Brasilia OGP conference, no question was asked about open government.
An interesting side exercise as part of the Brasilia meeting was a mapping party organised yesterday when some conference attendees gathered to explore Brasilia and add references to the openstreetmap of the city. OpenStreetMap – the wikipedia of maps –has the most extensive maps of the world. A community of over 545,000 registered users have added more than 2.7 billion GPS traces. It is all open data and available for reuse. “The real power of OpenStreetMap is that if something isn’t on the map, you can just add it.”