Advancing open government is not limited to national actions. Cities, districts, and regions all have a critical role to play in democratic reforms. By promoting greater transparency and increasing access to information, local governments can empower citizens with the knowledge they need to engage in the political processes that shape their everyday lives.
In theory, the close proximity of local government to citizens should make it easier for the public to participate in decision making and hold officials accountable. But in reality, this is not always the case. Oftentimes, official information is not readily available, data is neither open nor accessible, and the scope for public participation in decision making is limited.
The Open Government Partnership (OGP), a multilateral initiative dubbed the “COP for Democracy” by French President Francois Hollande, can help local officials overcome these challenges. Launched in April 2016, OGP’s Subnational Government Pilot Program supports 15 pioneer local governments as they implement concrete local action plans to strengthen transparency, access to open data, public engagement and accountability systems. These local governments have worked to co-create their action plans with civil society, and they will announce their strategies today at the OGP Global Summit 2016.
Here are two examples of OGP local governments that have already adopted such reforms, paving the way forward for subnational officials around the world.
Jalisco’s Innovative Public Consultancy Processes
Three-fourths of Mexicans feel that levels of corruption have increased since 2007, and more than half believe that their government’s efforts to combat this corruption are ineffective. This corruption undermines the public’s trust in political institutions, engenders apathy, and discourages citizens from participating in decision making.
Jalisco, a western state located on Mexico’s Pacific coast, has a long track record of open government policies: an independent institute that monitors organizations that receive public funding, a state-level open data platform, an initiative that requires political candidates to declare financial assets, and a participatory budgeting process that allows citizens to vote on allocating tax revenue to infrastructure projects. Most innovative is Glosa Ciudadana, an initiative that connects Jalisco’s executive branch directly to the public. Each year, the governor and cabinet host a public forum where citizens can ask questions, give input and hold officials accountable for infractions or failed promises. Such transparent, participatory dialogue deepens civil society’s relationship with government, re-building public trust in political institutions.
As an OGP pioneer state, Jalisco has undertaken ambitious plans to continue strengthening open government by establishing a secretariat responsible for co-creating policies with civil society, reforming existing laws, and expanding successful strategies within and beyond the state’s borders. Specific local action plan commitments include:
Restore trust between citizens and the police in Guadalajara by establishing spaces for public dialogue with officers and increasing opportunities for neighborhood participation in community safety initiatives;
Promote inclusion and achieve greater gender parity by reducing the wage gap between men and women;
Build an open data learning platform for state teachers to advance educational outcomes;
Launch an open data platform for recruitment and state contracts to reduce nepotism and increase transparency in local government hiring processes.
São Paulo’s Citizen-Centered Approach
São Paulo, Brazil, one of OGP’s pioneer cities, has strong democratic traditions, yet local government still struggles with poor public engagement. Municipal officials have reported low levels of civic participation and difficulty using available information-sharing platforms.
São Paulo officials decided not just to rethink their transparency and open data policies, but also to directly include citizens in the development of the municipality’s OGP local action plan. Working with civil society organizations, the government conducted a city-wide survey to determine citizens’ understanding of open government and their priorities for future reforms. Municipal officials simultaneously hosted a series of public forums, where residents discussed their relationship with local government and raised concerns with City Hall representatives. São Paulo used survey data and findings from these dialogues to develop 16 local action plan commitments, and then asked citizens to vote for their top five.
Increased communication between citizens and local government, access to user-friendly data, and greater transparency ranked highest on the list. São Paulo’s local action plan reflects these priorities in five commitments:
Create open, deliberative sessions to facilitate communication between the public and municipal officials, providing a space for citizens to voice their concerns and participate in decision making;
Launch an open government education program that bolsters public understanding of democracy and citizenship, outlining civic responsibilities, open data platforms and opportunities to participate in the political process;
Diversify City Hall’s communications platforms to reach a greater percentage of São Paulo’s population;
Establish a network of civil servants to integrate open government policies across municipal departments ; and
Improve the city’s Innovation Technology Laboratory, developing more accessible, interactive open data.
As they move forward, São Paulo officials have the opportunity not just to strengthen the city’s open government practices, but also to bolster public engagement as they begin implementing commitments.
Scaling OGP at the local level has injected new energy into the open government movement, and innovations emerging from OGP’s pioneer subnational governments have already motivated some cities to adopt likeminded approaches. Rio de Janeiro officials, for instance, plan to replicate São Paulo’s model of engaging civil society in decision-making processes, and two national networks of Brazilian mayors have requested open government capacity-building programs for newly elected mayors.
With half of the global population already living in cities and that figure set to increase to 70 percent by 2050, local government represents the new frontier for promoting democratic reforms. We must continue building upon the successes from São Paulo and Jalisco to propel the open government movement forward.