News 28th Sep 2023

OGP Summit 2023: Lessons for transparent and accountable governance

Juliet Swann

Senior Policy Officer

Juliet (she/her) is based in Edinburgh and leads our work outside of Westminster - primarily in Scotland, but also with local government in England and with an eye on Wales and Northern Ireland. Prior to joining TI-UK Juliet worked for various Scottish NGOs across the democracy, participation, human rights and environment sectors. This included working to introduce the Lobbying (Scotland) Act 2016, advising the Scottish Government and other stakeholders on inclusive and effective public involvement in decision making, and delivering engagement projects including Scotland’s Climate Assembly. She is a member of the Scottish Civil Society Open Government Network Committee.

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In early September myself and other colleagues from Transparency International UK’s UK and Defence and Security teams travelled to Estonia for the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Global Summit. For TI-UK this isn’t just a chance to meet other OGP partners but also to catch up with our colleagues from international TI chapters who also take part in their own OGP networks.

What is the Open Government Partnership?

The Open Government Partnership is a unique collaborative partnership between government and civil society that aims to promote transparent, participatory, inclusive and accountable governance. It now includes 76 countries and 104 local governments. Transparency International UK participates at both the UK level and in Scotland where we sit on the steering group.

The Global Summit

The summit saw over 2000 people, from prime ministers and government officials to civil society representatives of large and small organisations, journalists and changemakers from around 130 countries meet at the Creative City complex in Tallinn to listen, discuss, share and challenge across 100s of different events.

It was a packed agenda with insight and inspiration from across the globe. Events ranged from high-level roundtables featuring government representatives to civil society strategy sessions, and activities included learning how to stack firewood and a rousing protest song filmed for TikTok.

And for my part I was able to share how a strong OGP commitment on Public Participation has assisted in Scotland holding two citizens’ assemblies, one of which, Scotland’s Climate Assembly featured several innovations to improve access and participation.

TI-UK colleagues also contributed to a number of events and discussions with Duncan Hames, Director of Policy and Programmes spoke at a high-level roundtable on making democracies stronger through openness alongside ministers and government officials while Defence and Security Project Manager Mohamed Bennour took part in a panel discussion on openness and oversight with speakers including Nobel prize-winning journalist Maria Ressa and former US Congresswoman Jackie Speier.

The stories of innovation, dedication and responses to challenges demonstrate just some of the outcomes and approaches OGP can help highlight and deliver when civil society and government work towards shared goals. However, discussions at the summit were not all positive.

Challenges to Open Government

We reflected on the ongoing invasion in Ukraine, and how the OGP partnership in that country is working to enhance financial transparency both inside Ukraine, and in countries where Russian oligarchs are hiding their money. Our Ukrainian colleagues are also using OGP commitments on anti-corruption to continue efforts to expose corruption and to ensure that recovery, when it comes, is free from corruption.

We were also keenly aware of how civic space is shrinking in many countries. We questioned how we can ensure open government partnerships take a rights-based approach to their work that promotes and expands civic space.

We talked about how politicians always have more urgent matters than transparency or process reform at the top of their to-do list, so we need to show them how open government is relevant to climate change, anti-corruption, health inequality and more.

The potential of OGP

The Open Government Partnership is a proven way to advance the transparency and participation that is essential for a healthy democracy. And as I listened to the international examples of open government achievements (and pitfalls), it struck me that in the UK and Scotland it is vital we champion these open governance processes not just for the good it delivers at home, but because it means international partners who are also part of OGP can see that we are serious about a commitment they have promised to share.

Additionally for many countries where the civil society function is less established than here in the UK, the OGP is the public’s most powerful tool to secure commitments and change across policy areas. As Duncan Hames told the attendees  “If the UK wants to be a global beacon, then shining that beacon on the transparency of our own governance is essential.”

In Tallinn, we reflected that the current challenges to democracy mean that OGP needs to be even more ambitious with what it does, raising the bar on transparency across governments, including by becoming more open and inclusive itself, and by seeking to raise the profile of this innovative and potential-filled global movement.