Monday, November 23, 2015

Australian Government's decision to join the Open Government Partnership should help us come together to forge better outcomes

Last week the Australian Government announced that it was taking steps to join the global Open Government Partnership (OGP).

What's the OGP? it's a voluntary, multi-stakeholder international initiative supported by 69 national governments that was created out of the open government / Government 2.0 movement to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.

This is a decision that has taken some time to make. While Australia was invited to join as a founding member of the OGP (with eight other nations) in August 2011, the then Labor government didn't make announce an intent to join until 2013.

After this, a change in government saw the decision revisited and ultimately put on hold, as the new Coalition government reduced the policy emphasis on government openness and transparency.

However, with the recent fresh wind blowing through government with a change in Prime Minister, openness and transparency has returned to the national Coalition policy agenda.

One outcome was the announcement of 17 November by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet that Australia was taking the necessary steps to become a full member of the OGP.

More information on this decision and what it involves in practice, both for government and for civil society, is available on the new website.

While overall there's been positive feedback from the 'insider' community that have been interested in this decision, there's also been some criticism of the process as it has been laid out.

Given this is the first time the Australian government has developed an OGP plan, I'm not that concerned about the process being perfect.The fact that it has started is the crucial point.

I expect the process will improve into future planning cycles as all participants - government, civil societies and the community - gain an appreciation of the most effective ways to work together in this type of endeavour.

We can learn from the experience of other countries, which is well summed up in this OGP report, however the Australian experience will be unique and hopefully all participants will approach this current process with good faith and a willingness to 'learn on the job'.

The most important outcome of this first OGP process isn't the first National Action Plan for Australia, it's the relationships and understandings forged between government and non-government open government players that will positively contribute to an evolving relationship.

While backbiting and criticising may get a good media run, it seldom builds strong workable relationships, if not framed within a context of identifying and implementing improvements.

OGP membership is an opportunity to build the transparency culture in Australia, bridge gaps and build a strong civil community. Let's maximise its value both for citizens and government.

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