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South Africa, with the other seven founding members of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), this week celebrated the initiative’s fifth anniversary.
The OGP was launched in 2011 to provide an international platform that enables domestic reformers to make their governments more open, accountable, responsive to citizens, and corruption-free. Since then, the OGP has grown from the eight founding countries of Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, the UK and the US, to 70 countries. Participation is voluntary, and in all of these countries, government and civil society are working together to develop and implement ambitious open government reforms.
OGP countries work to a series of two-year national action plans, which task governments with working on various commitments. The national plans must advance one or more of the OGP principles of transparency, accountability, participation, and technology and innovation.
The aim is for the OGP to move to an era of implementation in its next five years of existence, where it should make a real difference in people’s lives. Implementation, however, is known to be the point at which progressive policymaking often fails, and lack of coordination between the various agencies and departments working on a specific commitment contributes to the situation.
Having reached the milestone, says the Open Democracy and Advice Centre (Odac), the question arises: how to keep making sure the OGP is effective? Odac believes part of the answer to that initial question lies in answering another: what can be done to get government departments coordinating on the OGP to make its projects a reality?
A new report released by the organisation examines the situation in the South African context. Titled Connecting the Dots: The coordination challenge for the Open Government Partnership in SA, the report was written by Gabriella Razzano of Odac, with the financial support of Making All Voices Count.
Odac’s research, the organisation says, “seeks to address specifically how implementation might be improved, through enhancing inter-departmental coordination on open data commitments.”
Download the report.
At its simplest, inter-departmental coordination aims to coordinate different agencies towards achieving common goals. This is seen as beneficial, as it improves service delivery, reduces expenditures, and ensures inter-sectoral responses to inter-sectoral problems.
The problem with coordination in the public sector is that it is potentially complicated by the powerful social and political forces at play, which may influence how specific groups coordinate.
Many of the problems stem from the very nature of organisations themselves. Previous research has identified some of them as:
These are at heart problems of power, says Odac. The fact that organisations seem to resist coordination is not entirely surprising, given that organisations are comprised of individuals, and power has direct behavioural impacts on individual agents within organisations.
But more than the behavioural issues, there are also structural (political factors, policy issues, organisational issues) inhibitors to policy integration. These, however, can present opportunities for improving coordination in similar areas.
In the current OGP environment for inter-departmental coordination, governments typically elect a lead agency to coordinate the OGP process, and individual lead agencies to implement specific commitments. In South Africa, the lead agency for the OGP is the Department of Public Services and Administration (DPSA). This department works with numerous other entities, such as the Innovation Hub, Government Communication and Information System, and Department of Trade and Industry.
Odac’s research revealed a pattern that seems to confirm that domestic contextual factors heavily influence the potential implementation and coordination of the OGP. Its recommended interventions are seen in the table below, with explanations further on:
OGP Commitment Implementation/Structural
OGP Commitment Implementation/Individual
The OGP process in South Africa has demonstrated a notable lack of emphasis on getting departments and agencies to work together, says Odac – whether on the OGP process itself, or in relation to the implementation of specific commitments. It is clear that coordination does not happen automatically. In fact, research seems to suggest that coordination may usually require intervention to work. Since it is difficult to get coordination to work well, it should only be focused on when it is an essential condition for achieving a development goal.
The South African context can learn much from the global lessons on coordination, which demonstrate that both structural and individual factors have a reflexive influence on one another; the importance of driving interpersonal connections among agents should never be overlooked.
Furthermore, changing the role of the lead agency to perform more of a coordination function could have a remarkable impact on furthering the OGP’s open data agenda.
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