lawyer. Former OGP – Independent Report Mechanism national researcher in Peru. Suma Ciudadana. @javiercasas
Citizen participation is one of the four principles of the global Open Government Partnership (OGP). The other three are transparency, accountability and technology. When Peru decided in 2011 to sign the partnership, this decision was assumed by all the experts as a “second breath” for the transparency in the country, understood in a broad and comprehensive manner. Why was everybody wrong?
The relevance of the national OGP action plans is directly linked to how their commitments contribute to advance these principles, but the fact is that the citizen participation is the cornerstone of open government. Experts and focus groups asked during the first Peruvian Independent Report Mechanism of the OGP (the independent monitoring of the national action plans) reported a coincident claim: the OGP action plans must consider the citizen participation as a priority. The State must give content and legitimacy to citizen participation procedures. The Peruvian IRM also registered the unanimous demand that the State listen, take into account the views (meaning that it doesn’t necessarily accept them) and explain decisions after consultation. Other evidence registered by the report is that many stakeholders exist with different levels or areas of interest that want to participate in the design and the implementation of the action plans. This also signifies that more than one action plan by country could be considered during the biannual terms. Or, that the commitments need to be designed with a more complex interrelation.
The quality of the citizen participation has different levels. The spectrum of public participation made by the International Association for Public Participation recognizes five levels and is the document used by the Independent Report Mechanism to analyze the commitments to advance this principle. The minimum required is denominated ‘inform’ (the public) and the highest level is denominated ‘empower’. The first level says, “to provide the public with balanced and objective information to assist them in understanding the problem, alternatives, opportunities and/or solutions”. The final level places the decision-making in the hands of the society.
So, transparency, accountability and technology make sense if they are useful to allow the society to move from ‘to be informed’ to ‘to be empowered’. In order to start this process, in the beginning civil servants who are held accountable must to create public information. They need to do a diagnostic to allow the guidance of the design and implementation of the action plans and disseminate it to the citizens in order to receive inputs, using the technology strategically. In Peru, no diagnostic was made to ask NGOs and civil servants to participate to make the first action plan. And despite the civil society made proposals, the process was mainly a brainstorming of activities already started or planned by different public entities which became commitments, except in one case: the creation of the National Authority for Transparency.
The proposal to create the National Authority for Transparency was an initiative of the Ombudsman Office made after a diagnostic, where NGOs and experts participated in the technical design. This commitment was introduced shyly (‘evaluate creation of’…) in the first action plan by the midlevel administration of the Prime Minister’s office in charge of the OGP activities, co-working with NGO’s and the Ombudsman Office, and with an erratic consent of the political hierarchy. During the design of the second action plan (process finalized in fact) the commitment introduced by the same partners was ‘to promote creation’ of the National Authority.
The Peruvian IRM also revealed a main problem of the administration: the misunderstanding of the concept and the scope of citizen participation. The government normally thinks that promoting citizen participation is the way to become a slave of decisions made by ‘others’ (or made by those who the State does not want to hear). This situation forces civil society to take part in State commissions, consultancies requested by the State, or be heard through the press. In this sense it is paradoxical that the only OGP compromise where there was not total control of the government seems to have been the one that eventually has paralyzed the Peruvian initiative. The situation reflects how transparency, accountability and technology are separated from the citizen participation, and, by this way, stripped of a transformative purpose toward an open government. This evidence demonstrates that in Peru is not possible to register advances in the four principles if the level of citizen participation is not considered seriously as an indicator of implementation of the whole process.
Today nobody is waiting on a second Peruvian action plan in the term offered by the OGP Steering Committee, but if it starts it is possible to predict the final: most of the commitments will be implemented without participation of the citizens (like always). No information is expected in order to evaluate the quality of the implementation of most of commitments, except the only one pushed by NGOs and the Ombudsman Office from the beginning (the National Authority for Transparency).
Finally, how to break this vicious Peruvian circle? Just a proposal. First: Identify an area of improvement and analyze it. Second: Commitments of the action plan need to pursue a transformative objective in this specific area, attacking the main problem diagnosed. Third: A political will is needed to want to achieve this goal and is able to mobilize all available resources to achieve it, working simultaneously to advance the four principles. Fourth: The government needs rigorously identify the stakeholders linked to the area where the action plan will be implemented. Fifth: Commitments must be monitored and evaluated by the State and stakeholders independently. Sixth: Government must think how it will receive reliable information from the citizens and stakeholders about the implementation.