25 June 2012

In an interesting juxtaposition, a report on progress giving effect to the NewZealand Declaration on Open and Transparent Government was released at the GOVIS conference in Wellington last week. At the same time the Open Government Partnership – the international open government initiative – reported progress on its 55 members’ action plans.

New Zealand and Australia have been notably absent from any involvement in, let alone commitment to, the Open Government Partnership.( Finland, Iceland, and Singapore are other high ranking countries on the Transparency International CPI that are not involved either.)  The OGP countries’ action plans perhaps indicate why. 

Internationally, open government is about promoting transparency and accountability.  For New Zealand, it is about using public data “to grow the economy, strengthen our social and cultural fabric, and sustain our environment”.  The 2011 Cabinet directive also recognised there would be a contribution to “… a more efficient  and accountable public sector, more services tailored to citizen needs…”

The Open Government programme at the GOVIS conference confirms that New Zealand agencies generally, have aspirations focused on delivering public benefit through the accessibility and reuse of official information.

Internationally, the Open Government Partnership member countries are committed to completing action plans to give effect to the Open Government Initiative. About 40 of the 55 OGP members plans have been reviewed by Global Integrity (a US based NGO) on behalf of the OGP.

Plans are intended as actionable, time-bound and benchmarked commitments towards making their governments more transparent, accountable and participatory.

Findings from the review released last week suggest a reluctance of countries to include SMART measures in their plans. Although 70% of plans include at least four out of the five such measures, fewer than half specify metrics for assessing progress. About 20 countries didn’t include a timeline for their activities.

 The analysis of action plans shows;

  • Early converts to the Open Government movement, like Brazil, Canada and Israel have some of the strongest plans, but so do some newcomers like Jordan and the Dominican Republic.
  • Countries are into grand statements and rhetoric rather than specificity about activities for implementation
  • “Open Government” is not universally understood, with plans including out-of-scope activities relating to democratic rights rather than specifying transparency and accountability targets.

Future action by the OGP includes sharpening these plans. An Independent Review Mechanism will track member progress.