Civil society participation in the Open Government Partnership (OGP)

Image: Yarik  Turianskyi
Image: Yarik Turianskyi

Active citizen participation is an important component of democracy. Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives (MSIs) attempt to enhance civic participation as a means of improving governance through cooperation by governments, civil society organizations (CSOs), and businesses to engage in commonly defined goals.

This report evaluates the experiences of civil society participation one such MSI – the Open Government Partnership (OGP) – in Georgia, South Africa, and Indonesia. A global initiative with 70 countries and 15 subnational governments as current members, the OGP seeks to enhance government transparency, and support civic participation in governance. MSIs seek to involve civil society, but governments have more resources and tend to dominate these initiatives, making the phenomenon of “open-washing” – the tokenistic show by OGP partner governments of enlisting CSOs – a concern.

Georgia is an OGP success story, demonstrating the importance of political commitment between stakeholders, but participation in Georgia’s Open Government Forum still tends to be dominated by professionalized civil society groups based in larger cities and needs broadening. In terms of substantive outcomes, Georgia has fully or substantially completed 25 out of 41 OGP commitments. The culture of cocreation was entrenched in Georgia’s OGP process. This early progress and strong institutional structure will be helpful in the long-term, but it must guard against complacency and maintain focus.

South Africa, a founding member of the OGP, has been criticized for failing to garner the support of government for this MSI and achieve its potential. Civil society groups were involved in its first National Action Plan (NAP), but their influence was limited; government played a visibly dominant role. The second NAP failed to introduce a formal mechanism for the monitoring of implementation. Of South Africa’s 15 NAP commitments, only one is listed as complete, three are “substantially complete,” six have “limited progress,” and five commitments have been withdrawn. South Africa’s OGP process was not prioritized by the government and displays obvious elements of tokenism.

In Indonesia, an OGP founding member with an active civil society, OGP consultations in its first NAP were
of mixed quality. CSOs took initiative and arranged their own consultations, in addition to governmentarranged meetings. During Indonesia’s second NAP, the consultation process did not conform to OGP guidelines for civil society involvement and the NAP was altered without input from civil society. Of the 46 NAP commitments evaluated, 24 were “fully/substantially” completed, 18 registered limited progress, two had not been started and two had been withdrawn. For civil society, Indonesia’s experience with the OGP is best described as both worthwhile and visibly flawed.

While MSIs present an opportunity for civil society to influence policy, their participation depends on context, including geographic, demographic, and physical infrastructure factors. Civil society can be proactive and agitate for their inclusion in MSIs and should have solid planning, signal interest, form coalitions, and
adopt a long-term perspective. Government should accept the principle of partnership and development partners can wield influence by providing CSOs with funding, aligning the support they provide with MSI activities, and helping to defend civic space.