6 min

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of #OGP16 Summit

Sticky notes on the wall.
Written by
Mor Rubinstein
Published on

This post is a reflection of a long and intense week in Paris for the Open Government Partnership summit. I feel after this week like I have seen so much, but missed out on a lot of things (including a couple of meals!). All in all, it was wonderful, once again, to see the Open Government community gathering around for good conversation, and maybe some follow-up actions. However, since this post is written by me, I have also some concerns that I would like to share with the rest of the community, so hold on — this is going to be a fun ride.

The Good

It is not secret that I care about the topic of gender in the open gov and the open data space. It was good to see that since my post from 11 months ago, things are starting to change in the field. More conversations about gender and open gov are starting to happen — from the workshops of The Web Foundation and Avina on OGP commitments to open gov, to the session that ran on behalf of Open Heroines, where we read Open Gender monologues. Indeed, the gender (and maybe even diversity) is on the table, and there is no way back now. Nevertheless, Manels (All-male panels), were still spotted during the conference, and I think that we can do SO much better by abolishing them altogether in the next OGP in 2018.

I think that the next rational step for OGP would be to have a working group on social inclusion — so we can make sure that everyone — Women, youth, LGBTQ, indigenous people and minorities are joining the table to discuss open government. I was happy to hear that many agree that open government is a process to everyone, not just a few — so now it’s the time to act on it!

Also, I would like to thank the OGP civil society support unit (and especially Peter Varga) for letting me run unusual sessions that are not panels. I was jubilant with the results and the participation, and I hope we can have fewer panels and more workshops in the future.

The Bad

I am a woman who has two countries — my home country, the one where I can speak my mother tongue, go to the beach and eat fantastic food (Israel) and my residence country — my daily home, the peaceful and grey country with the best tea services (the United Kingdom). When I started to work with Hasadna in Israel on open government four years ago, we looked up to the UK government as an example. For us, they were “The Vague” of open government and open data — we followed the UK work and pushed our government in Israel to work like the UK one. That is, up until this year.

This year, the official delegation from Israel to the OGP summit included two people — a contact from the Israeli embassy in France and central ranking public official from Digital Israel, the government agency for e-gov. As much as I like the Israeli delegate (Ilana is great!), it shows also how much the Israeli government is not committed to the OGP — if it was committed, there were, maybe, someone in the position of a minister.

Imagine how disappointed I was to see that the UK, one of the pillars of open government movement, didn’t send any minister. I am aware to the extent delegation from the Government Digital Services; I am informed of the visit of MP Eric Pickles and Sir Francis Maude, both very respectable and influential. I am also aware to the delegation from Scotland that came to promote sub-national action plan. For me, however, the fact that the UK government didn’t send any acting minister to the OGP summit is a warning sign. It is shown that the government do not see in it any importance.

However, more than my worries about the fact that the government didn’t send any minister, I am more concerned about the fact that the UK civil society didn’t make any fuss of this. That there is somewhat silence on the topic. It reminded me the article about over politeness in the open data movement by

Tom Steinberg

, and it makes me ponder what is next for civil society in the UK.

The Ugly

In short — the schedule of the whole summit was crazy. There is an old Hebrew proverb that says that there are so many trees that you can not see the forest anymore. This reflects how I felt at this conference — there were so many topics and sessions that I felt lost. So lost, that I sometimes gave up and just set in the main coffee space.

Also, I felt that an important event that should have run longer was cut short. This whole conference we have been bringing up the closing of civic space, but when the moment of truth comes, we cut our own civil society day in 4 hours, so now we are left with a civil society morning. In my eyes, this is, de facto, a closer of civic space, or at least an attempt to minimise it. The civil society day is an important event to the community that allows us to get in touch together in an informal way. Even though I think the OGP team organised a great morning, I believe that adding more hours to it would be more efficient in the long run.

Sticky notes on the wall.
Some of the ideas from my session on the civil society morning about the future of the open government.

Here are some of my feedback next OGP summit —
1. Mark the number of people who can join a session. Lots of sessions were closed after 5 minutes because there was not availaible sitting spaces in the room. Knowing the capacity of the room can help for early planing
2. Allow specific time for lunch — both IODC and the OGP summit scheduled sessions on lunch. Lunch is not only a good methodic break, but also a network place, so it needs to get a generous amount of time just for the action of lunch.
3. Make sure sessions start and ends at the same time. When sessions are starting at different times it is really hard to move between them or to remember when they start and end.
4. Quality, not quantity — This on is my personal preference, and I know that other people think differently. I think we should have fewer sessions, but more time to each session, than a lot of small sessions on so many different topics. Focus can help us as a movement to get better results.
5. Civil society day, not a morning — and maybe bring back the government day too. This is important to give both group support and networking that they need.

The hope

You didn’t think I will let you leave with a negative feeling, right? So my hope in this movement is the people in it. During this week I had wonderful open and honest conversations with many people, some of them were old friends, some of them were new. I felt great about those conversations because even though stuff are not perfect, we can be honest about our imperfections and try to move past by them and try to make this movement better, so we can make democracy better.
So even in these days when it looks like the world is going away from open government, remember that this is a movement with great people in it. As much as it sounds like a big cliché, we, the people who work in it, can shape its future, so it’s time to act. Time to work together.

See you in the next OGP summit, and in the meanwhile, keep the discussion on the web!

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