The OGP Journey to Go Subnational

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As readers of this blog may have gleaned from the recently posted minutes of the steering committee meetings last month in South Africa, there’s a major push underway to explore ways in which OGP can engage with subnational governments around the world. We wanted to share some of the thinking behind that push and invite feedback and contributions to our analysis, which we hope will culminate in a pilot OGP subnational program being launched at the October OGP Global Summit.

The inspiration for this push to “go subnational” is relatively straightforward despite the many complexities involved. A majority of the world’s population already live in cities, and that ratio could increase to nearly 70% by the middle of the 21st century. Local governments are where many  public services are delivered to citizens, allowing for somewhat tighter forms of accountability and feedback loops. Cities, states, and provinces are where a range of open government innovations have emerged or been refined, from open data efforts to participatory budgeting to cutting-edge methodologies for citizen engagement, both analog and digital.  Large cities are increasingly the locus of collective action solutions to global challenges in situations where political will at the national level is lacking, such as around climate change.

For OGP there are two additional practical reasons to make a push to engage subnational governments. First, many national political leaders begin their careers in local and subnational government; by building relationships now with subnational leadership, we hope to fill a pipeline of future OGP national leadership in the years to come. Second, we believe that a majority of new and exciting open government techniques and approaches in the future will continue to emerge from the bottom up; by opening OGP up to subnational engagement, we hope to surface those innovations in real-time and encourage their rapid uptake and adaptation to national-level contexts where appropriate.

In typical OGP fashion, we’re building this plane as we fly it; we don’t yet have all of the answers to what OGP “engaging” subnational governments looks like. The background “issues and options” paper prepared for the July steering committee meeting lays out a range of possibilities as well as challenges and risks. Based on the July meetings, where there was strong steering committee support for moving ahead with a subnational pilot program, we are examining the following possible programmatic contours:

  1. Subnational governments that are interested in and/or already innovating around open government will be invited to attend the October OGP Global Summit. They will have a chance to present some of their innovative work and will be encouraged to work with their national OGP government delegations to develop and integrate subnational commitments into their respective National Action Plans. They will also be encouraged to become part of a larger OGP network of peer learning and networking around open government at the subnational level.
  2. A more intense program consisting of a smaller number of subnational governments that are currently at the vanguard on open government innovations may also be launched. These leading subnational innovators will also be encouraged to develop subnational NAP commitments. In addition, they might form part of an experimental cohort that could co-create a small number of subnational open government commitments using the OGP methodology, but outside of the NAPs.
  3. We will likely ask participating subnational governments to endorse an Open Government Declaration at the summit, committing to key OGP values and principles.
  4. As mentioned above, we aspire to create a lightweight peer networking and learning cohort consisting of all of these and other subnational governments (and counterpart civil society) interested in open government and OGP at the subnational level.
  5. Lastly, we are also considering a new OGP award for subnational innovations, or a new category of the existing OGP award.

Despite the enthusiasm and possibilities, we have already begun wrestling with a range of thorny political and operational challenges. Should subnational governments be allowed into these pilot programs in cases where their national governments have not yet joined OGP? How do we thread the needle in situations where subnational governments are governed by political parties that are different from their national counterparts? Can the OGP Support Unit handle the increased burden of managing even a modest pilot subnational program? If new subnational open government commitments are developed through a pilot program (whether standalone or as part of NAPs), is the OGP Independent Reporting Mechanism equipped (or even mandated) to assess them? How do we engage and empower civil society at the subnational level to ensure that OGP’s co-creation and co-governance principles are not lost along the way?

We don’t yet have answers to all of these questions, but an OGP subnational task force is carefully working through them to try and flesh out a detailed pilot program proposal for review and endorsement at the October summit. In the spirit of OGP, we’re absolutely open to and encourage feedback, critiques, additional questions, and reflections on these issues and options in the coming months. Please reach out to us directly or in the comments below with your best thinking!

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