Thinking Uncategorized

Mini-briefing on the Open Government Partnership

The OGP was launched at last month’s UN General Assembly to a good deal of buzz in the gov 2.0 world. It seems to be part of, or hosted by, the Transparency and Accountability Initiative, another Soros venture.

Essentially, it’s a well-meaning anti-corruption, pro-openness platform between some of the nations leading on open government: publishing data (not just numbers) and doing innovative things with it. Or allowing citizens to do interesting things with it. Brazil and the US led the project.

Here’s an explanation in splendid socialmedialand format:

The Open Government Declaration that nations can sign up to is just that, a declaration, but by promoting examples like these….

We commit to increasing our efforts to systematically collect and publish data…We commit to pro-actively provide high-value information, including raw data, in a timely manner, in formats that the public can easily locate, understand and use, and in formats that facilitate reuse.

We commit to maintaining or establishing a legal framework to make public information on the income and assets of national, high ranking public officials.

We commit to making policy formulation and decision making more transparent, creating and using channels to solicit public feedback, and deepening public participation in developing, monitoring and evaluating government activities.

…the founding nations hope to cajole plenty more into joining them. It’s an interesting start. The examples above are just a few lines from a fairly vast, all-encompassing list that reads a little bit like somebody put together in one place all the government transparency ideas they could find. Which might not be a bad thing.

Now, how about more of the same, but for the United Nations itself?

In the blogosphere:

David Eaves has argued that this ‘openness’ idea could be a sign of ‘open’ states raising the bar in governance:

It abandons the now outdated free-market/democratic vs. state-controlled/communist axis in favour of a more subtle, but more appropriate, open vs. closed…I like the idea of world in which states compete to be more open. We could do worse.

The Economist blogged a response:

The problem with Mr Eaves’ argument isn’t that it’s necessarily wrong as such. The OGP would definitely be in line with an overall strategy to promote Western democratic values and provoke people in other countries to demand more of them…

No, the problem is that this is really nothing new or major…

Countries can join the list if they demonstrate that they meet certain “minimum standards of open government”—”minimum” clearly being the operative word.

The Economist also included a broad overview of the whole project, including strengths and weaknesses, in their print edition.

One simple test of effectiveness: is anybody still talking about this in a year’s time?

Reading Thinking Uncategorized

Multilateralism 2.0 – UN University prof ponders open, networked international relations

It’s not just me! Luk Van Langenhove of UNU Bruges and other important places believes that the 2.0 metaphor can be applied usefully for global governance. Sort of. He’s talking about multilateral decision making in the UN, and how it might change if the UN didn’t only involve states.

Read the article here (it’s not long) or there’s a fuller paper in Global Policy (academic login reqd)

Here’s my quick précis:

  • We’re facing growing multipolarity in international relations (more and more powerful states who can’t be rolled over by the US, i.e. BRICs) 
  • The state-based system is a problem, since the truly serious global problems aren’t neatly divided like state boundaries. They’re global, like climate change or weapons proliferation.
  • The 2.0 metaphor recognises power of networks and openess: international relations 2.0 can include players other than states. For example, regional and sub-regional institutions. 
  • So it’s a problem that the UN is based on ‘one state, one vote’ style decision making. 2.0 might allow for more flexibility.
  • Happily, there are signs of change. The UNSC resolution on Libya is an example of how the UN referred to the Arab League and Organisation of Islamic States [presumably to gain increased legitimacy for the decision].
  • And, the EU now has speaking rights in the UN, which will lead to similar institutions getting the same thing. And these big regional institutions will be key to tackling modern problems – so let’s see more of this.

My thoughts:

  • Sovereign states are still what Langenhove calls the ‘star players’ in international relations. Unlikely to see them giving up (or effectively watering down) their UN voting rights any time soon. Just increasing the number of seats on the Security Council is proving impossible. We’re certainly not going to see an EU seat replace those of UK/France at the Security Council. Which is why…
  • Global governance 2.0 matters as it’s about transcending the nation state (or superseding, or subseding – take your pick of latin spatial references). Van Langenhove is still thinking in a very state-based system of governance. That’s fair: it accurately reflects the state we’re in. To claim that regional institutions might give a more 2.0 approach is a bit far, however. Ultimately those regional institutions are filled with state representatives and take their orders from national capitals. 
  • Instead, get a bit more creative with the 2.0 metaphor and we might find ways to bypass state-to-state deadlock. For example, perhaps it’s not states that will solve climate change with top-down regulation, but horizontal (peer-to-peer) collaborative networks, such as cities, towns or industries.

More on this sort of stuff to follow..


Flickr credit: Blog de Planalto