Defining open government at the central and local level

The OECD defines open government as “a culture of governance based on innovative and sustainable policies and practices inspired by the principles of transparency, accountability, and participation that fosters democracy and inclusive growth” (OECD, 2016a).

Open government initiatives aim to strengthen the inclusive institutions that embrace transparency in practice. There are various forms and channels through which nongovernmental stakeholders, including under-served groups, can express their needs and preferences, such as through stakeholder consultation, participation and engagement at different stages of the policy-making cycle (OECD, 2016a). Open government initiatives value pluralism and reinforce a system of checks and balances to prevent nepotism, clientelism, or any other form of misuse of power that risks undermining the cohesion of society.

The overview of the potential benefit of open government in Box 4.1 highlights the twofold target of any open government initiative:

  • • Improving the performance of government and the public administration (i.e. efficiency and effectiveness) in the delivery of (more responsive and better tailored) public services (intermediate goal).
  • • Strengthen the quality of democracy and rule of law based on more open and inclusive policy making that will ultimately foster citizen trust in government and more inclusive growth (long-term goal).

Box 4.1. Potential benefits of open government

Establishing greater trust in government. Trust is an outcome of open government that can reinforce government performance in other aspects. In addition, if citizens trust the government or specific government policies, then they may be more willing to pay (fees, contributions, taxes) to support these policies.

Ensuring better outcomes at less cost. The co-design and delivery of policies, programmes and services with citizens, businesses and civil society offer the potential to tap a broader reservoir of ideas and resources.

Raising compliance levels. Having people participate in the process helps them understand the stakes of reform and can help ensure that the decisions reached are perceived as legitimate.

Ensuring equity of access to public policy making by lowering the threshold for access to policy making processes for people facing barriers to participation.

Fostering innovation and new economic activity. Public engagement and open government are increasingly recognised as drivers of innovation and value creation in both the private and public sectors.

Enhancing effectiveness by leveraging the knowledge and resources of citizens who otherwise face barriers to participation. Public engagement can ensure that policies are better targeted and address the needs of citizens, eliminating potential waste.

Source: OECD (2010), “Background document for session 1 OECD Guiding Principles for Open and Inclusive Policy Making”, expert meeting on Building an open and innovative government for better policies and service delivery, OECD, Paris, 8-9 June, www.oecd.org/gov/46560128.pdf.

To achieve these goals the central government is tasked with identifying a strategic approach to fostering open government across the whole of government (e.g. the National Open Government Strategy), securing the commitment of the political leadership, and initiating a national dialogue around objectives and programmes. The subnational level is a rich source of hands-on practice. It provides the space for turning open government principles and commitments into tangible improvements for the life of community members (OECD, 2016a).

In OECD countries, a new impetus for involving citizens in policy making emerged when a number of countries initiated decentralisation efforts in the 1970s. The reforms resulted in a transfer of authority, responsibility and resources from the national government to lower levels of government in an attempt to better respond to citizens’ needs and demands (OECD, 2016a). The 2015 Decentralisation Law and Municipality Law do not stipulate a significant transfer of competencies away from the central level to the governorates or to the municipalities. However, seeing as the needs and priorities of each community will be identified in collaboration with non-governmental stakeholders before being transferred to the next higher layer, decentralisation reform offers a unique momentum to boost the open government agenda from the bottom. There are good reasons for the increasing shift of attention among open government advocates and practitioners towards the local level. When the physical distance between citizens and government is small, open government theory and principles turn into concrete practices and, if successful, generate a positive impact on the lives of community members. At the local level:

  • • Transparency: is critical for assessing the performance of governorates and municipalities to deliver public services and allocate scarce public resources to effective use. The “passive” access to relevant, accurate and easy-to-use information (e.g. public records) and the proactive disclosure and dissemination of information are of critical importance in this regard.
  • • Participation: The subnational level provides the space for innovative forms of governance to emerge, get tested in practice and inspire similar practices elsewhere. By virtue of its size and focus on the daily needs of the local population, subnational governments are requested to respond to the specific demands from society. Citizen participation can take the form of consultation (local governments define the agenda, set the questions and manage the process while citizens are invited to contribute their views and opinions, such as through public opinion surveys or local hearings) or active participation (citizens engage in defining the process and content of policy making/service design and have an equal standing in proposing policy options and shaping the dialogue, although the responsibility for the final decision rests with the government, e.g. consensus conferences). Formats such as local gatherings, hearings, community councils or participatory budgeting can take either form.
  • • Accountability: Given the proximity and direct exposure to government action, citizens at the local level can more easily monitor local policies and the quality of public service delivery (e.g. public expenditures for schools). This can put “elected representatives in a situation of enhanced accountability” (OECD, 2016a).

This chapter is divided into two parts. It will analyse the current environment for open government in Jordan and the expected impact of the decentralisation reform on the interaction between government and civil servants, and civil society and citizens. The first part of the chapter will assess the current legal, institutional and policy frameworks and contrast the findings with actual practices at the central and subnational level. The current state of play will provide the basis to discuss, in the second part, the potential of the reform to encourage the emergence of a new culture of open, inclusive, participatory, and accountable governance at the governorate and municipal level.

 
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