Unorthodox ideas on openness, trust, governmental accountability and citizen engagement

Transparency Word Magnifying Glass Sincerity Openness Clarity

Some of the most unorthodox, soul searching ideas heard during the second day of the OGP summit in Paris:

1) Some approaches to public sector accountability might be incompatible with trust in government. For this reason, Sweden is currently trying to move away from its previous governmental philosophy that was based on the principles of the New Public Management (treating State as a result-oriented company that needs to please its clients) in order to experiment with approaches that are less based on the need to control (or to hold someone accountable) and to encourage more trust both within public service and between citizens and the public service.

2) We are used to treating openness as if it were a value in itself, but … is it? Is there anything of value that would be lost if openness were to be perceived only as a means to some more tangible social goal (such as quality education, quality healthcare, quality government, etc?)

3) Concept of open-washing or openness as a double-edged sword. Openness and transparency might be and sometimes are used as tools on behalf of some state entity for dubious purposes – for example, in order to justify some bad policy decisions (say, at least they were taken in an open process!) or to denigrate political competition. Should one encourage openness in such cases as well (in order to strengthen the later plea for consistency – to ‘practice what one preaches’)? This refers back to the previous point: should openness be promoted for the sake of openness or only as a means to some social good?

4) Is there a way to prevent transparency being used as a political tool in hands of populists who gladly use public information for anti-establishment rhetoric but do not apply the same transparency standards to their own actions (remember Trump’s tax returns and dismal performance on Fact Check)?

5) Is there any good evidence that openness does more good than harm? Trust in EU has not visibly improved since the Union became more open a few years ago. Improved openness was not an argument in recent US election as well. It’s also unclear how much of an impact various openness promoting instruments (for example, lobbying regulations) have and how trustworthy are claims of various open-government champions in specific communities on having achieved a huge impact: has there been some neutral evaluations on whether specific claims have/have not been exaggerated in order to ‘sell’ their achievements?

6) Is the term ‘open government’ too abstract, distant and vague to mobilise people (especially in some cultures, such as in Francophone world)? Is there a need for a language change? What about ‘responsive government’?

Those are all open questions without clear answers. And yet I’d probably be less inclined (than before comming to this event) to believe that openness without quality public engagement and citizen education is necessarily a good in intself.

[Iveta]

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