Aspiration of an inclusive Open Government Partnership

I had time to reflect on a hectic few weeks at in Silicon Valley, the Downtown Project in Las Vegas, the Open Government Partnership regional summit in Dublin and then the UK Payments Council payments innovations conference during an overdue family holiday on beaches with no mobile data signal.  I read a blog post by Martin Tisne from the OGP ( pending some other blog posts) and I wanted to share some thoughts because we briefly discussed the undocumented policy on sub-national government membership:

(1)  Yes, the level of government/civil society exchange taking place is symbolically and practically helping us re-imagine government and precisely why the hub should be an inclusive global platform.

As an open government lobbyist for 10 years – including pushing FoI issues to court at significant personal financial and career risk – and then as a parliament employee for 6 years coincidentally assigned to backbench reformists, I was at the build up to the previous OGP summit in London but I could not attend the summit due to a careful balancing act on annual leave days.

I had reviewed, collated and uploaded data on 16 mostly offshore British influenced jurisdictions of the 70 “countries” in the OKFN open data league table in lunchtimes and late nights:

The league table was a milestone in the Isle of Man open government debate.  Suddenly open government could be quantified and – more importantly – visually benchmarked against relevant jurisdictions such as Jersey, Guernsey, Gibraltar, Malta, Cyprus, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, etc.  Perhaps I even helped steer the jurisdiction SWOT and PEST analysis towards the concept of OGP membership and eventually a Cabinet Office agenda item.

So, the OGP summit in Dublin was both a highlight and an insight.  For example, some delegates believe beneficial ownership in the UK Government gilts is just as important as an offshore corporate entity with an apartment near the London Stock Exchange gilts market!

(2)  Yes, nearly 200 changes with significant social impact in 43 countries in less than 3 years is a great return on investment.

Offshore jurisdictions, particularly small offshore jurisdictions, are clearly a disproportionate factor in the global economy with financial services such as wealth management and philanthropy, production line incorporations and beneficial ownership, tax transparency and citizen budgets; surely any offshore government should be welcomed with open government arms to share expertise and lessons learned, to fully understand all the gaps and overlaps and to accelerate technology enabled changes that could exponentially increase the already great return on investment.

(3)  “I suspect the long-term success of OGP may in part be predicated on how well we strike the balance between OGP as a platform for reformers vs. a diplomatic forum. Domestic open government reformers could help inform and improve these international negotiations.”

Does the word government in the Open Government Partnership imply any technicalities?

The words “country” and “jurisdiction” could be interchangeable in most discussions about government.  Technicalities are not uncommon.  For example, I collated and uploaded the Isle of Man IATI public aid flow dataset – “UK Aid from the British people” is actually only from the UK budget and “from British people” and large UK charities often aggregate Jersey or Guernsey donations as UK donations!

National governments and sub-national autonomous governments are equally distinct from local governments.  So, should OGP membership really still rely on outdated 19th century diplomatic rules of engagement such as nation status at the United Nations or accept a 21st century revolution in internet country codes and the internationally accepted borders and jurisdictions on mashups in Google Maps and OpenStreetMap?

Should an existing government already on the map with an annual budget of £0.5 billion or £1 billion or £10 billion willing and able to adopt transparency best practice expect to be accepted as an OGP member?

Is open government even more important in the early months and years of a disputed government in a war zone, an elected transitional government or a devolved government in a post independence referendum limbo?

In some countries open data policy supporters might be marginalised or branded as fifth columnists without tangible progress from reusable digital assets or intangible political capital.

(4)  “We are experimenting with the creation of smaller networks of open government reformers to see how these forums could help boost learning and networking.”

Countries with key parameters in common should be able to share more relevant experience and reusable digital assets – real world compromises with coalition government, high national debt, high unemployment, an economy dominated by software development or financial services, etc.

(5)  It is relatively early days with ambitious open government commitments in OGP National Action Plans, but the private sector has certainly been increasingly willing to discuss open data possibilities in the last 12 months.  That’s not to say I haven’t still had some stunned reactions from contacts at companies to ambitious projects such as Bets Aid ™ – repositioning a country with all gambling tax as national public aid flow – the Banknotey ™ mobile app to extend the digital economy to the unbanked and underbanked in cash dominated economies or sectors, etc.

I agreed to switch from 100% to 50% permanent employment on the 1st January to shortlist and progress the most interesting or the most practical projects in a “government accelerator” placement with a government CFO when I belatedly realised from a mortgage application that I was already “all in” anyway!

Issues have included outdated funding mechanisms, linear project management with arbitrary timescales, policy gaps on key areas such as equity crowdfunding and a limited appetite to progress disruptive projects with unquantifiable impact such as live unemployment statistics – yes, I will probably have some stunned reactions at the Financial Times, Bloomberg and hedge funds too when that market sensitive open data is not released at 9:30am….


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