Look who's talking

Christopher Wilson

25 Apr 2017, 3 p.m.
Main Plenary (Sala Verde)

The Open Government Partnership is perhaps the most prominent international effort to connect citizens and governments through the use of technology. Citizen engagement is central to this effort, as manifest in the partnership’s standards for government action plans, guidelines for the independent review of action plans, and the rhetoric of its institutional mandate to make “government more open and responsive to citizens” (OGP, 2015).

A review of activities envisioned and implemented under the partnership, however, suggests that the initiative only rarely and modestly facilitates digital citizen engagement. This paper presents an analysis of commitments made by 61 governments in their OGP national action plans from 2011-2015.

Theoretical models from political communication studies are used to code commitments explicitly anticipating some kind of interaction with citizens, and to differentiate between unilateral and bilateral communication, the degree of message dependency built into interactive processes, and the degree to which citizens would be able to influence the ways in which they are invited to interact with governments.

Coding of the commitments is still underway, but suggests that unilateral communication (such as publishing information or receiving complaints without follow up) by far dominates OGP commitments pertaining to civic participation, and that while traditional consultations are regularly anticipated by OGP commitments, these only very rarely make use of technology to increase engagement.

Final analysis of the OGP commitments will consider the tendency of different types of interaction to engage with citizens directly or through intermediaries. Critical approaches to participatory mechanisms will be reconsidered in light of these findings, and causal models from research on voice and accountability initiatives will support an argument about the added value of direct and sustained interaction between citizens and governments, which is largely absent from open government commitments in the above data set.