OGP Day 3 – the rest of the world

One of the benefits of attending OGP is the exposure it provides to projects, technologies and approaches from around the world. At Indigo we’re relatively familiar with the situation in a number of African countries, but outside Africa our knowledge of open government and open data gets patchier. So it makes sense to dedicate this final OGP post to stories and insights from around the world:

  • Germany: Despite a long history of involvement and discoveries in science and technology, the German state has taken a very cautious approach when it comes to open government and open data. At the federal level, interest and involvement in open data remains limited. Looking at a map of OGP participant countries, Germany is conspicuous by its absence. But although federal commitment is absent, this does hide some regional differences. Hamburg, for example, is something of a leader when it comes to open data, while a number of local governments have open data champions right across the country. There are also increasing moves to provide some coordination to citizens, civil society and others interested in open government and open data. The German experience highlights the fact that open government and open data aren’t merely national-level, government issues and so the lack of a federal or national-level commitment shouldn’t be mistaken as a wider lack of interest among some parts of government or civil society.
  • Mexico: It would be foolish to omit Mexico from this post, given the number of Mexican delegates here and their chairmanship of the OGP. Several groups in Mexico are working towards the greater involvement of citizens in government initiatives and processes. While few would openly disagree with such moves, this does present a serious challenge as governments are simply not accustomed to such ways of working. Over decades and even centuries, governments and bureaucracies have built up elaborate ways of doing things – often to the exclusion of citizen involvement. Taking the example of software and technology procurement in Mexico, it probably comes as no surprise that the procurement process favours large technology companies, as these are best equipped to compete for and win contracts. Yet, such procurement processes can be wasteful and do not necessarily produce the best results. In the case of tax returns, for example, Mexicans wishing to complete these online need to use Internet Explorer as the tax-paying tool does not work in newer browsers. This sort of inflexibility benefits no one, certainly not ordinary Mexicans. To change this state of affairs, Mexico has started to change the way it looks at technology procurement. Rather than simply going with the largest company, civil society and government agencies have started to work together to identify openings and challenges. A call is then put out, small companies and individuals apply with their solutions and the best five are chosen to develop a minimal viable product. Of these, one is then awarded the contract. While such an approach may be more complex, it introduces an important element of competition into the procurement process. More importantly, it ensures that procurement isn’t simply a matter between large companies and government. Instead, it promotes the involvement of smaller groups and organisations with different ways of doing things and different motives too. One of the lessons of doing this work has been to identify a small, manageable issue and to build on that. While such an incremental approach may not be revolutionary, it signifies a commitment to a new way of doing things and to maintaining an open mind.
  • France: This year, France launched a new open address data service. Each year 200,000 new addresses are created in France. For a single, small government authority to manage this and ensure that things are kept up to date is a monumental undertaking. As in Mexico’s procurement process, the traditional French approach to maintaining address data was not set up to incorporate citizen feedback and input. But in recent years, the advent of tools such as OpenStreetMap have brought citizen voices and involvement into the traditionally closed field of mapping. In France, those responsible for updating addresses have recognised the benefit and value of incorporating this data into their own ways of working. By using data from the French postal service together with local organisations and individual mappers, the new address service is able to provide more accurate and up-to-date information that can keep pace with the speed of change.

Encouraging greater involvement of citizens and civil society in the internal workings and processes of government is not easy. Understandably, many states are concerned about the impact of changing their ways of working to incorporate citizen involvement. It is new and potentially challenging to vested interests, but by taking an incremental approach, government processes can be opened up gradually to greater citizen involvement. Whether this is enough is debatable and at times the pace of change can feel frustratingly glacial. Any ideas for speeding things up are most welcome.