Global and regional democracy finds itself at a crossroads. The democratic governments of the world, and particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean, continue to exercise power under the same logic they have used for decades, andmany of them have been unable to adapt to a series of changes, both in the surrounding environment and within their own societies.
One example of this is the fact that governments today are faced with a citizenry that is increasingly powerful and better informed, which expects better services and demands greater accountability from its governors. These citizens not only want more but also better information and spaces for participation within the public domain.
It is in this context that Open Government is gaining traction, and appears as an attractive solution to guide the reformulation of democratic mandates. Open government is that which practices and promotes transparency and access to information, and citizen participation and collaboration involving multiple actors, both in public policymaking as well as in service delivery.
Of its three main pillars (transparency, participation and collaboration), the first supposes, on the one hand, that the State has the political willingness to take proactive measures that guarantee the exercise of the right to access to information, by offering citizens data and providing accountability about areas that have hitherto been reserved or secretive and, on the other hand, the required degree of technical know-how to do so. But it is the other two Open Government principles that require more elaborate technical strategies and, more significantly, greater political willpower and consensus, in order to turn them into reality.
Promoting effective participation forums implies actively involving citizens in debating questions of public interest in a way never before seen. Generating collaborative environments for co-designing public policies and innovation implies empowering the citizen although in an incipient way — as a person with co-responsibility for formulating and monitoring public policies, and for delivering the services to which citizens are entitled. It is therefore all about making progress based on more robust conceptions of what democracy is.
Various questions arise. Why do it? What is the political dynamic behind Open Government policies? What political, social, economic and institutional obstacles might delay or impede implementation of these kinds of policies, and what are the opportunities that might favor it? It is reasonable to assume that in political-electoral contexts, and even more so during the exercise of government, the incentives to embrace Open Government policies among the different political and social actors will not be aligned. Faced with such a misalignment, this paper seeks to offer some contributions to the debate on the political dimension (with its incentives, best practices and obstacles) that is implied for the region if it embarks on the difficult, but altogether necessary, task of developing citizen participation and collaboration strategies within the framework of Open Government.
This study consists of four sections. The first section analyzes the specific challenges related to Open Government strategies. It pays special attention to the two latter pillars of Open Government — citizen participation and collaboration — as crucial axes and critical factors for successfully understanding the magnitude of the challenge that this paradigm shift implies. The second section provides elements that help to explain the political context in which this debate is happening. Specifically, it analyzes certain trends in political institutionality in the world at large and in Latin America and the Caribbean in particular, such as the emergence of two new actors — technology and a new type of citizen — that have to be taken into consideration when it comes to understanding, designing and implementing any Open Government policy. The third section, based on a specific case, delves into the practical implications of implementing participatory and collaborative policies. It contains a critical review of best practices, and the obstacles and opportunities associated with Open Government policies at the local level. The fourth, and final, chapter presents the paper’s conclusion and is set out in two sections. The first reflects on the attitude that civil servants must adopt in order to facilitate Open Government strategies. The second section summarizes the questions that have arisen throughout the course of this study.
This paper does not seek to resolve all of the questions that are bound to exist at present with regard to the political dynamic behind Open Government policies. It is, however, a preliminary analysis that will enable an honest debate to be tabled about the challenges facing Open Government policies in the region.
Author: Juan Felipe López Egaña
Orginal publication date: May 2014
Publisher: Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)
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