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Connecting the dots: The coordination challenge for the Open Government Partnership

Date added: October 6, 2016

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Open data is often an integral part of promoting transparency, fighting corruption and harnessing new technologies to strengthen governance. But to implement ‘good’ open data, government departments must coordinate to share data that is intersectoral, linked, in standard open formats, and – most importantly – is relevant and current.

In 2011, South Africa was a co-founder of the multilateral Open Government Partnership (OGP), which works to secure and implement open government commitments in its member countries. Experience with OGP initiatives shows that coordinating different government departments and agencies is a challenge for implementation – especially when it comes to open data.

This practitioner-based participatory research was carried out by the Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC), leading experts in access to information in South Africa, who have been deeply engaged in research and advocacy around South Africa’s OGP commitments. The research discusses the challenge of coordination, drawing lessons for South Africa from experiences of coordination in other countries.

Three detailed case studies of OGP implementation – from Canada, the UK and Malawi – offer useful perspectives on coordination which are used to inform OGP implementation in South Africa. They are complemented by an in-depth analysis of the South African context – political, legal, financial and institutional.

  • Lack of Cabinet approval for the OGP at its inception has inhibited interdepartmental coordination.
  • Conflicting legal paradigms make data sharing and coordination a challenge; legal uncertainty results in very real human fear.
  • Lack of an overarching open data policy means inconsistency in data standards, though in practice many officials try to subscribe to a shared technical standard.
  • Resources for financing OGP commitments will come from existing budget lines in different departments; this constrains the ability to focus on inter-departmental coordination.
  • Implementation of OGP commitments has dragged behind establishment; one reason for this is that the integrity of institutions established to advance transparency has been threatened in recent years.

The OGP has the potential to be an agent of influence, particularly in relation to coordination. This is an opportune moment in the mechanism’s history to begin advocating messages about implementation, such as improved inter-departmental coordination. What practical interventions might further current progress on coordination in South Africa, so that open data can be made a reality?

  1. Establish a Permanent Dialogue Mechanism (PDM), including departments with a coordination function and departments with mandates that fall under the areas covered by the OGP.
  2. Re-define the remit of the current lead implementing agency, so that its main focus is on coordination. Devolve much of its current planning and policy remit to the PDM.
  3. Encourage the formation of communities of civil society and government experts around the effective implementation of specific Commitments.

Two page summary also available here.

 

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