Open Gov Partnership mulls expanding membership to states

President Barack Obama speaks at a September 2014 meeting of the Open Government Partnership (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama speaks at a September 2014 meeting of the Open Government Partnership. (Pete Souza/White House)

A leading international organization on open government may soon welcome state and local governments into its membership.

The proposal is one of many the Open Government Partnership — which has more than 60 member countries, including the United States — is considering to connect with subnational governments.

“There’s a major push underway to explore ways in which OGP can engage with subnational governments around the world,” Nathaniel Heller, the managing director of the Results for Development Institute, and Manish Bapna, the managing director for the World Resources Institute, said in a blog post on the OGP website. “Local governments are where many public services are delivered to citizens, allowing for somewhat tighter forms of accountability and feedback loops.”

The group has not yet extended membership to local governments, but after a July steering committee meeting, the organization decided to move ahead with a pilot program that involves working with subnations in some way. The pilot is scheduled to begin after the October OGP summit.

“In typical OGP fashion, we’re building this plane as we fly it,” Heller and Bapna wrote in the post. “We don’t yet have all of the answers to what OGP ‘engaging’ subnational governments looks like.”

But, in anticipation of the group’s October global summit in Mexico, Heller and Bapna outlined potential options for how the partnership will seek to engage with subnational governments across the world. Heller and Bapna indicated that the OGP could act on all, some or none of these options.

  • Subnational governments that are “already innovating around open government” would be invited to attend the summit in October. At the event, the governments will be able to present some of their work to their national peers, who would have the opportunity to work in subnational efforts into their National Action Plans — a required provision under the OGP charter.
  • The OGP would create a more intense program within its folds geared explicitly toward subnational governments already at the forefront of open government. From there, those governments would be encouraged to develop a list of commitments to a subnational-specific action plan. With this option, Heller and Bapna also explored the possibility of allowing the subnational governments to form an experimental cohort to “co-create a small number of subnational open government commitments using the OGP methodology.” Those commitments, though, would occur outside of the action plans the governments are charged with creating.
  • OGP would ask participating subnational governments to endorse an Open Government Declaration at the October summit, which would officially commit those governments to the key OGP values of transparency, citizen empowerment, anti-corruption and utilization of new technology to strengthen the way subnations govern.
  • Through the creation of a peer networking and learning cohort of subnational governments, OGP would involve subnations, but not officially grant OGP entrance as a separate entity.
  • The partnership will develop a new award for subnational governments. This award could fall as a category within the existing OGP award, which showcase how open government initiatives have improved the delivery of public services.

While Heller and Bapna said in the blog post that they didn’t quite know the final form the effort would take, the minutes from the July steering committee meeting strongly indicate that OGP will feature some involvement from subnational governments going forward.

“Steering Committee members expressed strong support for this effort noting that some of the most practical and innovative applications of open government are seen at a local government,” the minutes read.

The committee did reportedly express some concern about the involvement of subnational governments — something they hope to address through the pilot, according to the minutes.

“There will be political sensitivity in cases where a subnational government is of a different political party to the national government,” the minutes said. “The Steering Committee will need to assess the pilot phase carefully … The priority should be making sure OGP is still able to focus on, and support, national level reform.”

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