Open Government Partnership expands to include at least 22 countries at launch

With two weeks left before a historic announcement in New York City at the United Nations, the international Open Government Partnership (OGP) has expanded to include fourteen more countries. The news of the expansion was first reported by FreedomInfo.org, which quoted an unnamed U.S. official.

The newly added countries include Kenya, Guatemala, Honduras, Albania, Macedonia, Malta, Georgia, Moldova, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Israel, Croatia, Mongolia and Lithuania. The original eight country members of the OGP are the United States and Brazil (co-chairs of OGP), South Africa, the United Kingdom, Norway, Mexico, Indonesia and the Philippines.

“These are governments from whom we’ve received formal letters of intent,” said Caroline Mauldin, special assistant to Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero at U.S. Department of State. “We’re very energized by the number of countries who are ready to step up to the Open Government Partnership plate.” Mauldin tells me that more letters of intent are still coming in, which will add further to the participants.

Expanding the number of countries committing to more open government is not in principle a bad thing, although the devil is the details, as ever. Brazil and the Philippines, for instance, are still working on Freedom of Information laws. We’ll learn more over the next two weeks, until the official Heads of State launch on the margins of the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. I’ll be sharing news and information as I go during the next 14 days and from the Big Apple on September 20th.

“All of the new countries are committing to developing their own country action plans in consultation with civil society, which they will announce at an OGP meeting in March 2012,” said Mauldin. “The ‘consultative process’ is the part of OGP that guarantees an ongoing, iterative dialogue with civil society.”

These letters will commit participating countries to broad principles but leave many specifics to individual governments. “OGP is structured to foster accountability between a government and its people,” said Mauldin. “A country can design their own mechanisms, so they’ll likely vary from one place to the next; of course, one key reason why countries are joining is so they can learn from one another.” That flexibility could be important in many contexts, as Gartner analyst Andrea Di Maio observed in his post on the Open Government Partnership:

Open government can be used to fight corruption, to increase the trust in government, to counterbalance the effects of excessive churn in government, to reduce the cost of government, and so forth. But in order to deliver on these different objectives, it does require different approaches.

The risk – like similar initiatives on e-government led by the UN or the EU have clearly shown – is that leading countries tend to showcase their approaches, which are almost automatically taken as best practices. But what is a best practice for a federal agency in the US or a large city in the UK may be either irrelevant or even counterproductive in a place like Moldova or Albania, just to name two.

All that said, it bears noting that the OGP is substantially expanding and the news seems to have been leaked without attribution initially, as opposed to an official announcement by the White House, State Department or OGP or anyone else on the record. The open government community should expect ongoing announcement regarding new participants, the September 20th event, a declaration and all letters to go up on OpenGovPartnership.org — but it’s not there yet, and the @OpenGovPart Twitter account has gone silent. In the U.S., the recommendations that have been collected by the White House as part of its consultation for the U.S. National Plan are only public if the entities submitting them have published them, like the open government recommendations by Clay Johnson at Expert Labs.

For more context, Nick Judd has published a comprehensive report on the expansion of the OGP roster over at techPresident and my notes from the White House open government partnership consultation. FreedomInfo.org also collected more OGP news from South Africa, India and the new White House’s epetition initiative.

Disaster 2.0: UN OCHA releases report on future of information sharing in crisis

The emergence of crisiscamps and subsequent maturation of CrisisCommons into a platform for civic engagement were important developments in 2010. Hearing digital cries for help has never been more important. A year after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, a new report by a team at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative analyzes how the humanitarian, emerging volunteer and technical communities collaborated in the aftermath of the quake. The report recommends ways to improve coordination between these groups in future emergencies. There are 5 specific recommendations to address the considerable challenges inherent in coordinating crisis response:

  1. A neutral forum to surface areas of conflict or agreement between the volunteer/technical community and established humanitarian institutions
  2. An space for innovation where new tools and approaches can be experimented with before a crisis hits
  3. A deployable field team with the mandate to use the best practices and tools established by the community
  4. A research and development group to evaluate the effectiveness of tools and practices
  5. An operational interface that identifies procedures for collaboration before and during crises, including data standards for communication

Disaster Relief 2.0: The Future of Information Sharing in Humanitarian Emergencies” was commissioned by the United Nations Foundation and Vodafone Foundation Technology Partnership in collaboration with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). You can find more discussion of the report in a series of posts on disaster relief 2.0 at UNDispatch.com, like this observation from Jen Ziemke:

…a substantial majority of members on the Crisis Mappers Network have held positions in formal disaster response, some for several decades. Volunteers in groups like the Standby Task Force include seasoned practitioners with the UNDP or UN Global Pulse. But what is really needed is a fundamental rethinking of who constitutes the “we” of disaster response, as well as dispensing with current conceptions of: “volunteers”, “crowds,” and “experts.” While distinctions can be endlessly debated, as humans, we are far more the same than we are different.

Whether it’s leveraging social media in a time of need or geospatial mapping, technology empowers us to help one another more than ever. This report offers needed insight about how to do it better.

Live townhall from Twitter HQ with US UN @AmbassadorRice [#AskAmbRice]

Today at 1 PM EST, Susan Rice, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, participated in a live town hall on foreign policy. Archived video from the livestream is embedded below:


Here’s how Ambassador Rice described the digital town hall at the White House blog:

When I left the West Coast after college in 1986, only one in 500 Americans owned a cell phone – and these were essentially bricks about 10 inches long. IBM had just announced its first laptop, which weighed 12 pounds. The founders of Facebook, I can only imagine, were then figuring out how to master nap time and tee ball.

As I go back again this week to take part in a Twitter Town Hall in San Francisco, an event that will be carried live on Twitter and Ustream at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time, the Bay Area looks quite a bit different. Education and innovation – “the currency of the 21st century,” in the words of President Obama – have changed the face of Silicon Valley and much of the world. But our interconnected age has also brought us new challenges. Today, transnational threats can sweep across borders as freely as a mass migration, an environmental calamity, or a deadly disease.

The Obama Administration is working every day to meet these challenges through our work at the United Nations, which plays an essential role as a keeper of peace, a provider of emergency aid, and a mediator between nations. You may agree – or disagree – with an approach to foreign policy that makes the best use of this complicated but indispensable institution. Whatever your views, I encourage you to send me your questions tomorrow at 10 a.m. Pacific Time on Twitter, using the hashtag, #AskAmbRice.

A snapshot of the conversation is featured using the Twitter search widget below.


Here’s the uStream social stream: