Last week I reported from the European Development Days at which a leading UN official working with the Open Working Group for their February meeting tackling governance and conflict revealed the 15 targets, or indicators, that would be considered by the group in their meeting. At that point I only had broad headlines but I can now set them out in more detail, which I have taken from the Technical Support Team briefing. (page 11)
They are as follows:
- prevent and reduce by X% violent deaths and injuries per 100,000 by year Y
- Eliminate all forms of violence against children, women and other vulnerable groups by year Y
- Enhance social cohesion and ensure adequate formal and informal mechanisms are in place to peacefully address tensions and grievances by year Y
- Reduce by X% inequalities across social groups, amongst regions within countries and between women and men by year Y
- Reduce external drivers of violence and conflict, including illicit flows of arms, drugs, finance, natural resources and human trafficking by X% by year Y
- Reduce bribery and corruption by X% by year Y and ensure that officials can be held accountable
- Increase political participation by X%, including diversity of representation in public decision making and civic engagement at all levels
- Ensure universal freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and access to independent media and information
- Guarantee the public's right to information and access to government data, including budgets
- Enhance state capacity, transparency and accountability regarding the control of natural resources and the equitable sharing of benefits derived from their exploitation
Rule of Law
- Provide free and universal legal identity including universal birth registration by year Y
- Ensure independence of judiciary and increase the accessibility and responsiveness of justice services by X% by year Y
- Improve capacity, professionalism and accountability of security institutions (including police) by X% by year Y
- Increase by X% the share of women and men, communities and busineses with secure rights to land, property and other assets by year Y
- Ensure equal right of women to own and inherit property, sign a contract, register a business and open a bank account, by year Y
I thought last week that this was overall a positive development, given that it might frame the OWG's meeting in a more positive and constructive manner, rather than the entrenched discourse about the extent to which these political issues potentially contravene sovereignty we saw emerge at September's UN General Assembly. They do seem to take the conclusions of 2011's World Development Report that jobs & justice are mutual requirements as a given and the paper itself makes that case even more powerfully.
I stand by that analysis based on the political intelligence I hear coming out of New York and experience of the spoilers emerging at the last UNGA. But I have since been reading up on some of the literature around open government and I do wonder at the extent to which these targets, and the paper in which they are presented, start to fall into a trap that scholars have started to notice.
Specifically, what is the difference between Open Data and Open Government? Two scholars, Harlan Yu and David Robinson, in 2012 wrote a piece called "The New Ambiguity of Open Government" and their argument is captured in the title. They warn that there is an assumption that providing open data on non contentious issues risks being accepted by the international community as ticking the open government box, and ask pertinently why some countries are so happy to sign up to the Open Government Partnership. They point out that the terminology of open data and open government is now used interchangeably as if it was the same thing; which it is not. I wonder if the governance targets being considered by the OWG only partially avoid that trap - specifically referring to budget data, yes, but not which budgets, in what format and with what regularity. Although I suppose that might be something for the OWG members to discuss.
They do however seem to avoid the trap detailed by Beth Noveck, Obama's former Chief Technology Officer for Open Government, who argues strongly for collaborative democratic participation rather than merely participatory. Her point was that lots of meetings did not equate to actual collaborative decision making and that open government, to be meaningful, required the latter. The targets attention to freedom of expression and specific political participation, including of women and vulnerable groups, are a strong sign that that message has been heard.
So...we have a proposal which looks much better than I and others thought might be on the table. It now remains to be seen as to whether these indicators, and the wider discussions on governance they will provoke, will survive not just the meeting in February but the critical drafting process from February to the next UNGA in September 2014.
In the meantime the UN General Assembly will itself be debating much the same topic in one of President John Ashe's thematic debates. This will be, crucially, more open both to civil society as well as non OWG member States and will have a direct impact on those drafting the OWG report which will form the basis of the final leg of this post 2015 marathon, the High Level Political Forum.
As ever there is much to play for.