Blog | November 9, 2016 | Gabriella Razzano

Ahead of the Open Government Partnership Summit in Paris in December, Gabriella Razzano - Head of Research at the Open Democracy Advice Centre in South Africa - reflects on the imperative to push forward the implementation of OGP commitments.

The OGP initiative stands as an important opportunity for the advancement of open government data, domestically. After celebrating its first five years, the OGP can redirect its focus from the cementing of its own processes, to driving the implementation of the OGP in country. In so doing, it is worth noting that the OGP Declaration states:

We commit to creating mechanisms to enable greater collaboration between governments and civil society organizations and businesses.

And while many of the conversations centre on facilitating engagement directly between government and citizen – questions are now emerging as to how we can encourage coordination within government itself, as a strategy for implementing open data commitments.

In 2016, the Open Democracy Advice Centre – with the support of the Making All Voices Count and Institute of Development Studies – explored strategies for driving inter-departmental coordination. The underlying theory was that open data projects in particular require that data be shared effectively and uniformly between departments.

If departments cannot talk together on OGP, what then is the potential for an open data commitment arising from the OGP process to be successful in the real world? At its simplest, inter-departmental coordination aims to coordinate different agencies towards achieving common goals – we sought to explore what might happen if that common goal is framed as an OGP commitment to data.

Traditionally, the main mechanism for coordinating any agencies on the OGP has been seen to be best advanced through the establishment of a Permanent Dialogue Mechanism, or similar forum for regular dialogue. Yet, at the time of writing, the Independent Review Mechanism data revealed that less than 20% of the countries participating in fact had a forum for regular dialogue. More worryingly for our research, only 72% of countries had multiple government agencies or a working group involved in their OGP process. Nevertheless, if a forum is to be useful for advancing interdepartmental coordination, this needs to be a recognised goal for engagements.

To advance coordination on open data, however, coordination needs to be promoted at the level of the commitments themselves, and not just at the level of the broader engagement process. We would suggest that this could ideally take the form of commitment specific working groups. And alongside these structural recommendations, we also noted that there are other strategies that can work alongside the structures – such as regular communication, training and coordinator roles from the lead agencies – which could effectively reinforce the coordination goal.

Perhaps most importantly, the research noted that coordination strategies would need to of course consider the full context of a country. In South Africa, for instance, an exploration of the environment led to very specific proposals. Because South Africa has a dominant lead agency in the Department of Public Services and Administration, that agency would have an important role as a facilitator of coordination and, in so doing, could also devolve some of the decision-making on commitments to inter-agency decision-making through a Permanent Dialogue Mechanism.

A further recommendation, which could also be explored in other contexts, sought to create a more direct accountability from departments in relation to commitments. When departments are identified as a partner for coordination, these departments should sign acknowledgment of commitments to help ensure their involvement in the process from the earliest moment possible.

While the report provided many other suggestions and ideas as well, which can be explored in countries hoping to drive inter-departmental coordination, the main recommendation is this: open data needs departments to coordinate, and they need to acknowledge coordination as a specific goal if it is to become a reality. Opportunities exist, right now, both globally and domestically, to build open data initiatives as a mechanism for promoting accountability. However, these opportunities will not be properly exploited if the actors involved continue to work in silos.

About the author

Gabriella Razzano is Head of Research at the Open Democracy Advice Centre, South Africa

About this blog

This blog was originally published on the ODAC website