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December 1, 2014

Why Open Government Can – and Must – Help Build Safer Communities

By Linda Frey

I recently attended an energizing meeting of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in the Americas, hosted by Costa Rica.  The event attracted the participation of more than 350 government and civil society participants from 17 OGP countries across the region.  These enthusiastic champions of open government reform participated in a series of 40+ parallel sessions on topics ranging from access to information, to legislative openness, to ensuring open government principles are part of the post-2015 development framework. Indeed, the success of the event confirmed that Latin America is one of the most active and dynamic regions in the world when it comes to pushing for more open and responsive government.
Casting a shadow of sorrow over the meeting was the widely shared concern about the tragic disappearance of 43 Mexican students from Ayotzinapa at the end of September.  In his opening remarks at the event, OGP civil society co-chair (and Mexican citizen) Alejandro Gonzalez referred to this tragedy as a “call to governments to recognize that the open government reform agenda is not a desirable accessory, but an absolute necessity.”  That evening, more than 100 individuals from across the region participated in a candlelight vigil at the Mexican embassy in San Jose, demonstrating solidarity and support for the families of the missing students and other victims of violence.
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OGP Americas Meeting ends with a call to strengthen the Post-2015 Development Agenda

The representatives of governments and civil society organizations (CSOs) of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in the Americas Region, make an open call to the United Nations General Assembly to consider the inclusion of the targets related to transparency, accountability and access to justice in Goal 16 in the Post-2015 Development Agenda, namely: "Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, inclusive and accountable institutions at all levels", in accordance with the results of the Open Working Group of the UN General Assembly.

For the Government and CSO representatives of the region, it is vital to ensure citizen access to timely, useful and robust information in order to monitor progress in the attainment of the Post-2015 goals. We support Goal 16, including the targets related to OGP principles including transparency, accountability, integrity and citizen participation, that will:
• Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels, and ensure equal access to justice for all;
• Substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all its forms; • Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements;
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A civil society recap of the Americas Summit

Last week, over 350 participants from the Americas Open Government Community and beyond gathered in San Jose, Costa Rica to participate in OGP’s Regional Meeting.

#OGPSanJosé started with a civil society unconference that followed in the footsteps of Abrelatam. The proceedings were facilitated by SocialTIC and eighteen civil society representatives from all over the Americas region. During the breakout sessions proposed by the community (48 in total!), the participants discussed an array of topics from the inclusion of diverse civil society actors in the creation of action plans to peer learning across the region, to more issue-specific topics like open data and how to strategize around open contracting. OGP’s Civil Society Engagement team will work in the following weeks to synthesize the conclusions of the sessions and share them with the OGP community.

The unconference was followed by a two-day event with 47 breakout sessions, workshops, panels, country sessions, book presentations, and debates.

Plenaries included an inauguration by the President of Costa Rica, who highlighted the crucial role of civil society in preserving the participatory nature of democracies. A debate was held with the participation of speakers selected by the community including Senator Hernán Larraín from Chile, Juan Manuel Casanueva, Álvaro Ramírez, Nicolás Dassen, and Costa Rican Vice Minister Ana Gabriel Zúñiga.

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Faces of Open Government
Manish Bapna is the executive vice president and managing director of the World Resources Institute. He is an incoming member of the OGP civil society Steering Committee.
Give one example or anecdote of why open government matters to you personally? How is it making a difference in people’s lives?

Governments are powerful and in the absence of transparency, can make decisions that affect people negatively.  I have seen this firsthand in a wide range of countries  – whether it is on how forest rights are assigned, how water is allocated or how people are able to access essential public services.  When I was working as a team leader at the World Bank on rural development projects, I tried to advance open government by making investment decisions readily available in public places.  Shining a light on such decisions made by government often led to more just, sustainable and acceptable outcomes. 
Why does the issue you are working on matter within the OGP context?

Open Government and Sustainability: Transparency, citizen engagement and accountability in government are essential to advancing sustainability. Since the Stockholm Conference on the Environment in 1972, governments, the private sector and civil society have gained extensive experience in providing environmental information to the public, engaging citizens in decision-making and creating and implementing accountability mechanisms. I hope to facilitate learning within the OGP community on tools and lessons-learned from the sustainability arena. 
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Latest news on OGP    

Civil society networks 
acknowledge OGP as an important platform for dialogue

Members of the Latin American Alianza Regional and Latin 
American chapters of Transparency International have issued a public statement acknowledging the importance of OGP as a platform facilitating dialogues between civil society and governments. Some suggestions for improvement were also included. Read the statement here (in Spanish).

New OGP Regional Civil Society Coordinator for Africa and the Middle East appointed

Maureen Kariuki has been appointed Regional Civil Society Coordinator for Africa and the Middle East. Having a regional coordinator for civil society engagement in this region will allow OGP to more meaningfully and effectively operate in African and Middle Eastern countries. Read more here.

¿Qué hay en los nuevos planes de acción nacionales de la AGA?

Read the Spanish version of the paper "What's in the new OGP Action Plans" here.
Commitments from 48 New OGP Action Plans now tagged by theme

The OGP Support Unit has recently reviewed and tagged around 900 commitments from 48 new action plans. The new set of 42 thematic tags covers key horizontal (e.g. Open Data, Capacity Building, etc.) and vertical (e.g. Education, Asset Disclosures, etc.) open government topics. Read more about how you can use this valuable dataset for your work.
OGP Americas Regional Meeting in Pictures

Click here for photos of the regional meeting in Costa Rica!

The buzz on Open Government

Private sector engagement in OGP

Following a thought-provoking panel discussion on private sector engagement in OGP at the regional meeting, Tim Davies ponders whether we need eligibility criteria for private sector involvement in OGP. Read his reflections here.
Further reflections on the Americas summit

Zara Rahman of the Open Knowledge Foundation
suggests thinking of OGP not as a 'declaration of openness', but rather as a commitment to improving. She also argues that OGP, while being a meaningful space for dialogue, should not be considered separate to the wider human rights picture. Read the full post here.
Four leaders in Government Contract Publication

The CGD Working Group report on Publishing Government Contracts lays out the case for routine publication of government contracts, suggests approaches to maximize the impact and effectiveness of that publication, and addresses some common concerns about collusion, privacy, and commercial and national security.
For Your Calendar

December 4, 2014, 10-11:00 EST: Webinar in Spanish: Sistemas de atención de reclamos ciudadanos para la provisión de servicios públicos y comunicación entre gobierno y sociedad.
Registration HERE.
December 9, 2014, 10-11:00 EST: Webinar on Analysis on OGP Commitments in Fiscal Transparency and the Opportunities for Public Participation in Budget Making.

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