Can open government reinforce trust between governments and citizens?


August 1, 2017

At the end of June, I travelled to Washington, DC to participate as an observer at a meeting of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Steering Committee. As you might remember from one of our previous blog posts, Canada was recently elected to the Steering Committee and we will officially become a member in October this year.

I met with colleagues from all over the world: representatives of the governments of Brazil, Chile, Croatia, France, Georgia, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Romania, South Africa, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as civil society representatives from Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

A chance to listen and learn

This meeting was a chance to listen and learn, and to get to know more about how the OGP and its Steering Committee work. You can check out the meeting materials for yourself on the OGP’s website (cheers to open information!). You’ll see we discussed a wide range of issues, from engagement with subnational governments to themes for open government leadership and even a review of the ‘rules of the game’ for membership in the OGP.

Throughout our conversations, discussion often turned to questions about the relationship between government and citizens. Many of the people around the table acknowledge that, around the world, in the past year or so, politics and elections have brought us results that defy expectations. When citizens feel that their government doesn’t hear them – or isn’t listening to them – they can lose trust in institutions, and respond in unexpected ways.

Making citizens’ voices heard

We were reminded that the OGP was founded in 2011, and while it might seem like the world in which it was launched is very different from the one we face today, many of the issues that make passionate people raise their voices together are enduring, and have only grown since: wanting to be heard by those who are in power; wanting to be recognized and not dismissed; wanting government to meet us where we are, not the other way around.

The question the OGP has to face now, 6 years after it was first launched, is how it can play a leadership and convening role in making citizens’ voices heard in governments around the world. We know that openness and transparency can help put government data and information in the hands of citizens, and we need to keep making progress on this. We also need to work on supporting the move, for all governments, towards meaningful dialogue, open policy development, and, yes, even collaborative decision-making, to reinforce citizens’ trust in the governments that are meant to serve them.

I’m looking forward to working with the other members of the OGP Steering Committee to take on these complex challenges. It’s a privilege to work with an organization that recognizes governments and civil society as equal partners in supporting greater openness, accountability, and transparency. Our job now is to do all we can to ensure the OGP becomes an even more formidable instrument to ensure ordinary citizens have a role in shaping how their government works.

Mélanie Robert is the Executive Director of Information Management and Open Government at the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS).  She leads the Government of Canada’s efforts to be more open, transparent and accountable and to manage information as effectively as possible.

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