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OGP Evolves and Looks towards Future

May 1, 2012


OGP., the international outreach arm of the National Security Archive, recently published an article by Toby McIntosh detailing the new Articles of Governance enacted by the Open Government Partnership (OGP). The changes will create new leadership, as well as affect other policies of the OGP such as backsliding members and whether or not to allow observers into Steering Committee meetings. It’s a very informative post and we wanted to share it.

“OGP Adopts Governance Articles, Disclosure Policy”

18 April 2012

By Toby McIntosh

The Open Governance Partnership Steering Committee has set the structural framework for the future of the unusual multilateral organization run by governments and civil society organizations.

In new Articles of Governance, the OGP describes how the organization will evolve from being  run by its founders to being a much-expanded organization with elected leaders. This will include an unprecedented system in which civil society groups will elect representatives to the Steering Committee.

During a lengthy closed meeting April 16, the Steering Committee also adopted a disclosure policy now being praised by freedom of information experts.

In addition, the Steering Committee worked on the standards for the critical next phase of 55-nation organization – the mechanism for reviewing the national action plans in which the member commit to improve their transparency. Public details of that discussion await the posting of the meeting minutes, but sources told that the committee sentiment was to increase civil society involvement in the review process.

The Articles also address how to deal with backsliding members.

The Steering Committee decided at the meeting to consider expanding its policy on having “observers” at  its meetings.

The Steering Committee met April 16 and the 26-page Articles of Governance were posted April 17.

Plans for New Leadership

The now 18-member committee is evenly divided between government and civil society members. Brazil and the United States have been the co-chairs. The United Kingdom in September will become the “lead” co-chair, now held by Brazil, and the US will drop off.

At the meeting, a third co-chair was created for civil society. Warren Krafchik. Executive Director of the International Budget Partnership was selected for the job.

Also, Tanzania was added to the Steering Committee, filling out a slot vacated last summer when India dropped out. In another personnel change, Martin Tisne, now with Omidyar Network, an OGP funder, will join the Steering Committee as the representative of the Transparency and Accountability Initiative, the coalition of major OGP funders that Tisne headed until several months ago.

At T/AI, Tisne has been replaced by Vanessa Herringshaw, coming over from Revenue Watch Institute, most recently as Director of Advocacy and Director for Europe.

In yet another personnel development, the OGP has hired Paul Maassen as Civil Society Coordinator. Maassen, who will be full-time beginning in mid-June, based on Brussels, has worked with Hivos, a Humanitarian Institute for Cooperation with Developing Countries as Program Manager for ICT and media, and with the World Wildlife Fund.

Articles of Governance

The structure of the OGP is now laid out in detail in the Articles of Governance, which define the responsibilities of the co-chairs and the Steering Committee and other organizational basics.

Over the next few years, the Steering Committee will transition to be a fully elected body.

Next year, when the OGP annual conference will be held in London, elections will determine three new members of the Steering Committee. The founding members have agreed to take staggered terms and rotate off, but who has not been determined. The Articles set the Steering Committee size at 20 (it is now 18).

To elect the civil society members on the committee, national and international CSOs will be selected. A civil society representative will be chosen for each member country. Who will represent civil society from each country will be determined, not by governments, but through a process of self-selection within countries, with any difficulties reaching consensus to be resolved by the OGP. An equal number of international organizations will be allowed to vote, chosen through an application process. At the moment, wih 55 members, this will mean a voting bloc of 110.

Separately, the heads of government delegations will vote to select the new government Steering Committee representatives.

The Steering Committee will elect the three co-chairs, two from government and one from civil society. The lead co-chair will be responsible for the annual meeting. The Articles also establish four subcommittees, already in existence.

Action Plan Rules

The Articles define the basic expectations for national action plans and their review.

OGP countries are to set their own timeline for action plan implementation, according to a series of guidelines recommended by the Independent Reporting Mechanism—a group of international and local experts detailed below—and approved by the Steering Committee. As living documents, they can and should be continually updated based on ongoing consultations with civil society. Action plans should be for a minimum of at least two years, but can go beyond that if countries desired.

OGP governments are to publish an annual progress report approximately three months after the end of the first 12 months of action plan implementation.

The Articles also address the “Independent Review Mechanism.” The Steering Committee  discussed the process in more detail at the meeting.

The Articles lay out the basics:

Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM): As a complement to the self-assessment, an independent assessment report is to be written by well-respected local governance experts from each OGP participating government. These experts are to fill out a common OGP independent report questionnaire, based on a combination of interviews with local OGP stakeholders as well as desk-based analysis. This report is to be shared with a small international expert committee (appointed by the OGP Steering Committee) for peer review to ensure that the highest standards of research and due diligence have been applied. The draft report is then shared with the relevant OGP government for comment. After receiving comments on the draft report from the government, the local expert then finalizes the independent report for publication on the OGP portal. OGP governments also have the chance to issue a formal public response to the independent report on the OGP portal once it is published. The independent report is to be made publicly available in the local language (s) and in English, and is to be published approximately 3 months after the end of the 12-month OGP implementation cycle.

Backsliders Policy

Although the OGP has always been conceived of as an organization with fairly low entrance requirements (79 nations qualify) in order to encourage particpation, there has always been concern about how to handle nations whose performance falls below the eligibility standards or who fail to follow through on their commitments. In late 2011 this came to a head as critics of South Africa’s proposed “Secrecy Bill” objected to South Africa’s membership and set on the Steering Committee. The nine CSOs on the  committee, but not the government members, issued a statement urging South Africa to reconsider.

Under the new Articles, countries that “cease to act consistently with OGP principles” will first be engaged by Steering Committee members. Falling below the eligibility criteria would have to be remedied in a year or face suspension, with appeal rights.

Disclosure Policy Praised

The disclosure policy is a far cry from the draft policy circulated for public comment late last year, and much improved, according to those familiar with it.

The policy lays out pro-active disclosures to be made, such as: meeting agendas and minutes, and vendors and costs for OGP projects. It establishes a process for making requests, some limitations on disclosure, and an appeals mechanism.

Four Addendums

Attached to the Articles, unchanged from their earlier iterations, are the criteria for eligibility, the goals of the actions plans, the guidelines for consultations, and the Open Government Declaration.

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