Editor’s Note: In the time since this post was published, Reboot signed on to support a fifth subnational government, the Provincial Government of Ontario, in developing its OGP commitments. We’ll be sharing lessons learned from this work in future Ideas posts.
Over the past two months, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know leaders of subnational open government in Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana and Jalisco, Mexico. Their passion for what they do—whether pioneering new ways of exchanging information with citizens about government resources, or advocating for an apolitical space in government to truly meet their constituents’ needs—has blown me away. Moreover, their commitment to the open government agenda above and beyond their core responsibilities is highly commendable. In Sekondi-Takoradi, both the Assistant Development Planner and Public Relations Officer told me that it is the citizen’s right to know what the government is doing, and that they see open government as a vehicle for achieving this. In Jalisco, leaders from civil society and Congress referred to open government as “governance 2.0,” emphasizing how it can enhance their current policies and programs to better serve the citizens of Jalisco.
These are just small examples, but they are representative of the kind of excitement we at Reboot are seeing a lot of lately, through our participation in the newly kicked-off Subnational Government Pilot Program, an initiative of the Open Government Partnership (OGP).
Reboot is supporting four of the fifteen cities, states, and municipalities participating in the Pilot Program. These fifteen “pioneers” were selected for their exemplary commitment to and innovation in open government, and they’ll spend the next year pushing this commitment even further. Reboot is working shoulder-to-shoulder with our four partners, which include the governments of Elgeyo Marakwet, Kenya and Austin, Texas, United States, as well as Sekondi-Takoradi and Jalisco (mentioned above). We’re serving as the bridge for these partners between the governments and communities, and between subnational actors and the OGP.
“Subnational” is an important new approach for OGP, and we believe it’s a smart move. Launched in 2009, the platform has been a thoughtful driver of a global effort to make national governments more transparent and accountable to their citizens. It’s been an experience of continuous learning and growth, and Reboot is proud to have been deeply involved in this community for the past couple of years.
But many of us in the community have recognized that there is a gap between the national-level commitments made through OGP and citizens’ actual experience of government. The most palpable experience of an open government happens at the local level, where there is space for citizen participation and engagement in decision-making in a way that is logistically challenging at the large scale. The tenets of open government are also more tangible in service delivery at the subnational level. For example, in his blog I Quant NY, Ben Wellington catalogues how open data improves life for New Yorkers, such as using the New York City government’s open data portal to spot a pattern of the NYPD handing out erroneous parking tickets.
Beyond improving life for citizens, the subnational approach also has potential benefits for governmental actors and practitioners pushing for open government. That’s because it can be bottom-up, able to meaningfully integrate citizen voices—directly or through mediation—in decision-making (as opposed to starting with rigid mandates from the top). Perhaps most importantly, at the local level citizen needs can be paired with an understanding of government capabilities, to ensure that priorities are in the “sweet spot” of not only what is needed, but also what is feasible.
The “sweet spot” approach (finding the nexus between capabilities and needs) has always been core to Reboot’s methods. We’re excited to be putting it into practice through a community as innovative and prestigious as OGP. It’s still very early; we’ll see how this theory works in practice. Along the way, we’re excited to share what we’re learning. To that end, we want to highlight some of the early innovations we’re seeing (especially given our uniquely broad view of the OGP subnational program as the partners to four different “pioneers”):
Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana: As the main hub for Ghana’s young oil industry, Sekondi-Takoradi is faced with an influx of people and businesses attracted by the industry. The twin-city is addressing this challenge through new interventions in participatory decision-making, improved service delivery, and transparent and accountable governance. One example is Time with Community, a bi-weekly platform for community-government dialogue, which used to be an internationally funded initiative and which the assembly has formally integrated into their own processes.
Jalisco, Mexico: Jalisco has a track record of going beyond conventional aspects of governance, and the state has built strong momentum in policy making that reflects accountability, participation, technology, transparency, and collaboration. One good example is the Vamos Juntos program, designed to solicit citizens’ input on public budgets.
Austin, Texas: A leader in open government for decades, Austin has enjoyed multiple awards in innovation and participation. The city is eager to share its learnings and to scale new heights through participation in the pilot. The recent Task Force on Community Engagement, which issued a report on improving Austinites’ opportunities for participation, is one example.
Elgeyo Marakwet, Kenya: With principles of transparency and of accountable, responsive government embedded in the Constitution, Elgeyo Marakwet’s government has a high mandate for sustained commitment to open government by public officials and employees at all levels of government. One example of how it puts this commitment into practice are the “dialogue days,” when the county government reports on projects and strategies to communities, and fields questions and suggestions from community members.
None of these examples are the end-all be-all in open government innovation. Open government is complex incremental work no matter how small of a scale the implementation is. We’ll probably never be “finished,” but here at the beginning of the project, we are excited by the chance to learn side-by-side with the people who have been doing this hard work in their cities and states for years, and to share what we learn as we go. We are hard at work—stay tuned for updates!