Irish OGP Progress Report Launch: opening remarks by Paul Maassen

ogp ireland

9 March 2016

The Printing House at Trinity College Dublin

Good evening ladies and gentleman,

I have been following the Irish journey in OGP since June 2012 when two active citizens came to me with the idea of campaigning for Irish participation in the partnership. With a smart advocacy strategy they managed to get more civil society interested and more to get minister Howlin interested. And the rest is history as they say. With Raj’s excellent report on the formal participation experience of Ireland in OGP to date as it’s history book.

Let me start with two complements. First, a complement for Ireland on not only producing a strong set of commitments, but also making very substantial progress on delivering them. And when I say Ireland I mean those actors in civil society and in government that made this happen. Second, a complement for Raj on his report. It is quite an achievement to capture a countries journey in OGP in general, but the Irish one is perhaps even more complex. I think you managed to capture the positives and the negatives well, naming what needs to be named, doing it elegantly without shying away.

I will try to do the same while framing Ireland’s performance within the partnership and making some suggestions.

FRAME

OGP now has 69 participating countries, over 100 Action Plans that combined have close to 2500 commitments. The last couple of months 25 reports have been released for public comments. Those reports cover 407 commitments in total. Action plans range from 4 commitments to 15 in general, but we did have cases like Ireland with 30 and Uruguay with 40. So Ireland is on the high end

If we look at ambition, and use starred criteria I can tell you that out of these 407 commitments 27 are starred (meaning measurable, relevant to open government values, potentially transformative and substantially of fully implemented. The stars per country range from 1 to 4 (only Ireland has 4 stars, 4 countries have 2 stars, 4 countries have 3 stars, 2 countries have 1 star).

On issues covered the trends are access to information and public accountability (based on the frequency of their relevance to OGP values.

In the bigger picture Ireland is doing well if you look at the commitments. Across the 30 commitments many are relevant, many are substantially of fully delivered, the plan covers a broad range of issues and not just politically easy ones. On the process side there is more to be done in Ireland – and not just in Ireland.

CONSULTATION

Trend is that countries are learning and complying better with the official OGP process requirements. We have seen improvements in all countries from first action plan to second. Meeting the requirements doesn’t necessarily mean a national process was of high quality though. As OGP we have realized that we have to revisit the requirements and bring in new elements that look at more qualitative aspects like the depth of the consultation – is civil society consulted or do they co-create with government, is the process open and inclusive or not? We also realized that one important factor for success is what we call the permanent dialogue mechanism a country puts in place. Raj calls it the Implementation Review Group. The name doesn’t matter. What is important is that there is a way to have a continuous dialogue between actors – not just for the development of a plan, but also for implementation and monitoring. The best examples we have are really where civil society and government co-create OGP in a space they manage together.

I actually thought the consultation for the plan in Ireland was pretty good. And I watched it very closely. Yes, there could have been more citizens in the room, yes it could have been taken outside of Dublin, yes, the government could have negotiated with civil society more directly at the political level about priorities. Yes civil society could have been more strategic in bringing the 62 recommendations down to 10 Big Asks. But at least there was a lively debate resulting in 62 asks, there was government funding for the consultation, there was feedback on the proposals made and many made it into the plan and minister Howlin did put his political weight behind OGP and behind the commitments.

A lot has been said about the way civil society works and works together. I don’t think I need to touch on that, except two things. I absolutely realize that for civil society to be actively engaged in something so important and so complex as changing the culture of government asks for resources. And in western countries it is almost inevitable that that funding comes from government. Second, I have seen Irish civil society smartly advocate and work together twice and got what they wanted as a result. First in getting Ireland into OGP, second in rallying together to get the FOI fees abolished. It shows it is possible and when it happens it can pay off.

RECOMMENDATION

Coming to a close with a few recommendations for the future of Ireland in OGP. And of course I realize you have just had elections and they have brought a bit of shake-up. And I also realize Raj has recommendations in his report. They all are very solid and important.

First, to open up government and change the culture is not a technical fix. It is much more complex and political. Look at the commitments on lobbying regulation or whistleblower protection. For OGP to stay relevant in Ireland it is imperative to have a political champion in the new government with the will and power to drive this agenda forward. This is an opportunity for civil society to take the initiative.

Second, if commitments are not delivered by June it is great to re-commit – or differently put – still deliver what you promise. This should not be an excuse to commit to new, bold and ambitious things that combat corruption, or promote the uptake of open data, or make public spending more transparent and accountable.

Third, there are a lot of commitments in the plan to do more about participation, whether around all new policies or at local level. Ireland has a lot of good experience and should build on that. Not in the last place to make the next action plan development process even better and more inclusive, really pushing the boundaries on co-creation. And doing it in a way that really adds value to the outcome and for the parties that invest time and energy. Let’s not create participation opportunities just for the sake of it.

Fourth: be a leader in OGP on some of the stuff you are really good at like whistleblowing and lobbying – and learn from others on topics you are struggling on. That is part of why you are in OGP.

And finally: get that permanent dialogue going between government and civil society. It is not that difficult. You have done it on different topics and at different moments. We have dozens of strong examples by now on how to do it – including on selecting the people at the table and shaping the rules of the dialogue.

Let me leave it here. As I said, I have been closely following the Irish path to government reform for the last 4 years and look forward to the next 4!

Paul Maassen, Director for Civil Society Engagement at the Open Government Partnership

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