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Four encouraging signs from OGP’s Civil Society Day, and one not so encouraging one

Blog | October 28, 2015 | Carol Morgan

Yesterday’s Open Government Partnership (OGP) Civil Society Day was a mix (and occasional melee) of people and ideas. Small groups argued over issues from the value of hacking to tackle corruption, to how to actually get government interested in using crowd-sourced data.

Before the governance big hitters come in on Wednesday, the Civil Society Day was a great moment for smaller, less-established groups to discuss how they think open governance is going. Here are five key takeaways from those discussions:

Photo credit: Open Government Partnership.

Photo credit: Open Government Partnership.

1. We are challenging the lack of connections between different development ‘groups’

It was comforting to see people challenge each other when saying things like “we need to talk more with the development people” (assuming, I suppose, this was a ‘governance person’). Aren’t we all development people, regardless of how we go about it?

2. There is a sense of realism in the air

OGP steering committee members talked about the challenges of being an organisation where membership is voluntary, while applying pressure for governments to deliver on what they promised. Civil society and private sector groups both talked about how hypocritical it was to ask government to be ‘open’, if they themselves weren’t.

Map Kibera injected a great note of practicality by handing out printed maps they took to the Ministry of Education to show how government figures were wrong. They didn’t send a dataset simply because most of the education officers didn’t have a working internet connection.

Civil Society Day. Photo credit: Open Government Partnership

Photo credit: Open Government Partnership

3. There was room for some old school radicals

Open Data is the language of the powerful: we don’t need to learn the language of the powerful, we need them to learn ours.

I don’t necessarily agree with the above statement expressed by someone during the ‘infomediaries’ session, it’s a good sign that someone took a microphone to say it.

Institutions like the OGP are often insular, talking to themselves and the people they already know. The Civil Society day was a bit of a fringe event, and it was all the better for it. I hope these voices carry over into the main conference.

4. People are back on the agenda – and they are nudging process into second place

Aidan Eyakuze from Twaweza on talking to people – and acknowledging that government, civil society and, well, ‘citizens’ are actually people.

If you tell people ‘this is for the greater good’, they’ll say ‘Oh. That’s nice.’ If you tell people ‘this is why it benefits you’, they will invite you in for coffee and say ‘tell me more’....

… And then, there was one takeaway that was bad.

5. There is still a huge gulf between the tech haves and the tech have-nots

In a session about who in the world is data literate, one of the criteria for data literacy was whether people were able to do statistical analysis.

By that measure, I’m barely data literate!

My mother who, at age 60, learned to put her household expenses on a spreadsheet to see how much she had left to spend that month is not data literate. Most certainly kids in rural Nigeria who can recite Manchester United scores for the last 10 years and compare managers' worth against the team’s performance would not be considered not data literate. And yet, I think they are.

This is one of the key areas that open government, and particularly open data, remains an exclusive club.

Let’s not confuse access to technology with the ability to understand data. Having facts and figures is supposed to be empowering: the last thing we need is another way to exclude people.

As we go into the OGP Summit’s two main days, I hope the voices from civil society will continue to be loud and argumentative.

Surely that’s the point of this expensive exercise of bringing people together from all over the world – to make sure as many different voices as possible are heard?


About the author

Carol Morgan is Head of Communications at Making All Voices Count
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