- By Gabriella Razzano
Since its inception in 2011, the Open Government Partnership has been held up as a progressive and visionary initiative for forwarding transparency. Participation has grown dramatically: the eight founding countries in 2011, are now with sixty-nine participating countries in 2016. However, with the focus on growth and building the institution as it has been, surprisingly little direct research has been done in asking a very simple question: How feasible is participation in the OGP for different country contexts?
ODAC, with the support of the Department for International Development, sought to explore this question in the context of Malawi: a country that has just completed and submitted its first National Action Plan. And in taking a step back to explore a more fundamental question about the OGP and Malawi, we were able to gain some interesting insights.
The first was that the 'strength' of a country's National Action Plan mustn't be understood in terms of what makes nice and neat indicators, but instead in terms of what that country's needs are if transparency is to be made real. Review mechanisms such as the African Periodic Review and others have highlighted the need for Malawi to build the institutions it already has in place; yet "institution building" doesn't necessarily look like the more 'exciting' open data focused projects other countries have chosen to highlight. This in fact, though, is where change needs to happen.
The second key point relates: if a country wants to change, the question should become: how can the OGP help create real change? It becomes clear that, for a country like Malawi, peer learning and exchange - an ambition central to OGP's ethos, but sadly sometimes not focused on - will be the main way that the OGP can assist Malawi in its transparency journey.
There were also lessons specific to the Malawi OGP context, such as how the government might improve the involvement of Parliament given some its legislative-type commitments; or how civil society should encouraged to use the OGP as a platform for its already fine work in the country. However, the most specific lesson was one that is perhaps obvious, yet frequently over looked - the OGP will only be useful for change when we consider the country context first, before engaging on any other activities that look outside before inside.
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