Some Top 10 Takeaways from Tbilisi

Originally posted on Open Government Partnership's blog.

Over 2,000 advocates from nearly 100 countries convened in beautiful Tbilisi, Georgia in July for a hectic week at the Global Summit of Open Government Partnership to explore how we can collectively enhance the global work of open government.

So, what did we learn in the process?

This is an important question we often ask ourselves after we organize events here at the Open Gov Hub.

The Open Gov Hub in Washington, D.C. is a meeting place that supports a network of over 40 NGOs advancing transparency, accountability and civic participation worldwide (we are also the home of OGP!). Our mission is to amplify the impact of collective opengov efforts by facilitating resource sharing and collaboration across our network.

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A key way we have done this in our 6 year history is through convenings - in fact, we host about 150 activities and events per year (an average of 3 per week). We try to constantly facilitate exchange of ideas, resources, feedback, tools and connections to amplify our shared social impact, as organizations and as a network.

Earlier this summer, we produced a new Crowdsourced Guide to Great Events, after recognizing that despite great effort and good intentions that often go into organizing events in our field, they sometimes fall flat and are often not as impactful as they could be.

We shared some tips from this Great Events Guide on a call with OGP Summit session organizers before they traveled to Tbilisi and again during the Closing Plenary (to spotlight a few sessions that stood out as following some of the Guide’s key principles - like being truly interactive and well- moderated, with diverse voices).

One recommendation that emerged in the Guide is to always distill and share key ideas and actionable takeaways after events end.

So, to practice what we preach, we decided to again crowdsource the collective wisdom of our network - this time, to compile this list of some top overall ideas and lessons from the Tbilisi Summit (curated from many Open Gov Hub members who attended it).

Thanks to the many individuals in our community who contributed to this roundup. And we hope that by move regularly reporting out our top takeaways to each other, we can further more toward a more learning-driven, openly honest and reflective opengov movement, which translates into more open, accountable, responsive societies around the world.

Without further ado, here are the Top Ten Takeaways from Tbilisi:

  1. We talk a lot about the challenge of closing civic space - but need to better prioritize commitments that actually address it. Numerous Summit sessions understandably touched on the global phenomenon of closing civic space (as documented by CIVICUSFreedom House and others). But presently only 100 of the 3,000 commitments made in OGP Action Plans to date address this need to protect essential freedoms of speech, association and assembly.

  2. We seem to be doing a better job of exploring the instrumental (not just intrinsic) value of open government, addressing the criticisms of skeptics rather than only preaching to the converted/choir. This includes new resources like the OGP Skeptics Guide as well as new initiatives to evaluate the impact of OGP, like the new DFID Open Government Program and some efforts to evaluate impact, supported by the new Multi-Donor Trust Fund.

  3. Opengov is starting to embrace the idea of inclusion - but much work remains.. Many conversations emphasized the need for greater participation of women, youth and other marginalized groups (in fact, the session on OGP and Youth was voted via Twitter as the favorite session of the Summit), and these will become greater areas of emphasis of OGP under the leadership of Canada. But much work remains, including in ensuring that such underrepresented voices play a greater role in shaping the next Summit

  4. Many opengov reforms we wish to see require active private sector participation - but there are still very few of them in the room. From promoting integrity in natural resource management and beneficial ownership to mitigating the harmful effects of spreading misinformation, private sector entities have an important role to play alongside civil society and government, who should explore creative incentives and tri-sector partnerships (one example is how tech companies are being engaged in the Design4Democracy initiative).

  5. Commitment often runs high, while implementation gaps remain. On many issues from anti-corruption to public service delivery, both government and civil society advocates often have a strong commitment to the work and vision of what they think will have impact. But challenges often emerge when no one is quite sure how to get there or what the mechanisms for accountability are to deliver the intended end result. This reality underscores the value of adaptive approaches that close feedback loops as promote learning as you go.

  6. Opengov is most related to SDG Goal 16, but is also the underlying foundation needed to fulfill all other SDGs. As Helen Clark stated, we have to be a community of reformers that illustrates how you cannot have sustainable development without peace, justice and accountability.

  7. Engage tech thoughtfully. Virtually all OGP Action Plans have at least one commitment related to technology which are often the most celebrated, but these are also disproportionately under-implemented. Identify a clear problem then determine if a tech-based solution can help; and if so, assess tech capacity first before implementing an overambitious, ineffective plan.

  8. We have reached an unprecedented level of global coordination and buy-in to advance some key issues, and not yet on others. Cross-country collaborations on open contracting, open data and public disclosure of beneficial ownership have begun to reach new heights, setting new norms. Meanwhile, the International Standards for Lobbying Regulation for example represent just the first foray toward establishing international standards for lobbying or regulating the influence of money in politics.  

  9. Political transitions are an inevitable - but not insurmountable - challenge to maintaining momentum for OGP. Changes in government give a key opportunity to renew commitment to openness. New governments naturally want to distance themselves from their predecessors, so opengov advocates should help illustrate how opengov reforms can help them fulfill their campaign promises (which are top of mind). And ensure that civil servants/bureaucrats are equipped to continue behind-the-scenes work to maintain opengov practices, even as politicians change.

  10. Opengov can counteract authoritarian trends to help defend democracies - new and old. The majority (55%) of OGP countries are new, post-1990 democracies. Meanwhile, recent authoritarian trends in more well-established democracies also show that democracies always need defending and the work is never complete. ‘The Authoritarian Playbook’ is a predictable script that has played out again and again in different countries (when people feel fear or anxiety, they gravitate to a strongman). High civic participation with low pluralism can breed polarizing populism. Citizen demand for openness combined with open information and government responsiveness can help deter disillusionment with democracy that lends popular support to authoritarian practices.

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What were your top takeaways from Tbilisi? Let's continue the conversation together on social media at @opengovpartnership, @opengovhub and #OpenGov