My Four Open Government Takeaways from Tanzania

100_0117By: Francis Lansana, Accountability Lab Resident in Liberia. The blog post was originally published on the Open Government Partnership blog.

This year’s Open Government Partnership regional meeting for Africa was held last month in Dar es Salaam, under the theme “Enhancing Accountability through Open Governance”. The meeting included over 300 participants from across government, the private sector, civil society, academia and more, which brought a significant diversity of perspectives to the meeting. From the Liberian perspective- where we have faced challenges over time but have also made significant progress in building-out a 2nd implementation plan for the OGP- here are my four take-aways from Tanzania:

  1. Set clear, achievable goals. Open government is a large, nebulous goal, and to make it actionable, countries need to narrow their focus. If the objectives are overly ambitious, promises will be left unfulfilled. Action plans should focus on areas where impact can easily be seen and are in line with the developments that citizens want to see. For example, in Liberia, as part of the 2nd action plan the Ministry of Information, Communications and Tourism (MICAT)- the lead agency on the OGP- and it’s civil society partners are focusing on citizen monitoring of the court system. Justice is a critical issue, and collecting information on the operation of the courts is a tangible and important step that will be welcomed by citizens.
  2. Use people-centered technologies. Governments must tailor their information sharing strategies to the needs of the people they serve. We all know well that the world has become a global village as a result of improvements in technology. Citizens have become more engaged with their governments through social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. In Tanzania, the government has created an open data portal for information on government that citizens are using to improve their lives. Equally, however, low-tech tools should be used where access to the internet is still limited- as in Liberia. This is where efforts like the Daily Talk chalk billboards are important- to reach citizens regardless of their access to the web or newspapers.
  3. Ensure government ownership. The OGP is about creating a medium for citizens to better understand and assess the performance and impact of governance. For this to happen effectively, governments must take the lead in communicating with their citizenry on a constant basis and show that they are committed to the process. This builds trust and facilitates further reform, in a self-reinforcing cycle of openness. In Sierra Leone, for example, the government has established the position of director for the Open Government Partnership. Tanzania too has created a new position for an OGP focus person who works directly with the President’s office. These key contact points can coordinate efforts, ensure constant and harmonized communication and build momentum for the efforts to support transparency.
  4. Collaborate and share ideas. No one country has the answers to open government; and the path taken by the West is understandably very different to that taken by OGP member countries in Africa. As a result, it is essential that African countries share ideas with each other and learn from the progress each is making in its own ways- both within governments but also across civil society. That is why the meeting in Tanzania was so important- I had the opportunity, for example, to learn from Ministers in Freetown about how they have coordinated across government on transparency issues; and to discuss options for transparency tools from civil society colleagues from Dar es Salaam. This is invaluable insight as we take the process forward in Liberia. At the Accountability Lab, we are also excited to use the new OGP Explorer– which brings together a wealth of data on the commitments, challenges and successes within the OGP- to see where Liberia measures up to other African countries and how we can learn from their progress to date.

Now that I have been back in Liberia for a few weeks and have had time to reflect on all of this, I am filled with a renewed sense of energy and excitement around the OGP process. We have a Minister who has demonstrated clear commitment to the initiative, and a group of civil society actors who are coming together in constructive ways to support open government. We will validate our new action plan soon and hope that at the next OGP meeting Liberia can be talked about as the pioneer of open government in Africa.