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Jorge Hage Headshot
Maria Otero Headshot

The Age of Open Is Upon Us

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Open government is fundamentally changing the way we live and solve age-old problems. Free access to information empowers individuals with the latest technologies, allowing us to more effectively fight corruption, improve services and create safer communities together. It is no exaggeration to say that open government strengthens the freedoms we cherish and the jobs that flow from those foundations. Not just in Brazil and the United States. But all around the globe.

In Brasilia on April 17 and 18, representatives from 73 countries -- more than a third of the membership of the United Nations -- will gather for the first Open Government Partnership annual meeting. Delegates -- including President Dilma Rousseff, President Jakaya Kikwete and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- will share their personal vision and plans for throwing open the doors of government for their citizens.

Unlike other global meetings, these leaders won't be standing alone on the raised dais. Instead, they will be joined by civil society organizations and technology businesses, brimming with ideas. They are equal partners in this global initiative and not mere spectators. Participants will be there to recognize new commitments to openness and challenge all OGP governments to deliver on their promises.

This is a modern gathering, for a new breed of leaders. Participants share our passion that the days of "government knows best," with information, contracts and public sector performance statistics hidden away, are finally over. By tapping citizens' expertise, we can make better decisions.

Data sharing has already transformed the lives of consumers across the globe. From the way we compare financial products to the groceries we buy, many of us exercise personal choice daily. But choice is also increasingly the driver of public service performance, with citizen participation at its heart. Previously we politicians fretted about how government engaged with its citizens, guessing at how best to serve them. Now what is equally relevant is how our citizens engage with us, and what they are able to tell us about how to meet their needs.

Countries and communities that have embraced this concept are making huge strides. In Mexico, the national state oil company Pemex now publishes its contracts to combat corruption. In New York, the rankings of 18,000 teachers are allowing parents to make schooling decisions based on data that show their effectiveness in improving student performance on standardized tests. An Indian NGO's creation of www.ipaidabribe.com has allowed 400,000 people from across the globe to anonymously report bribes paid or requested in the last 18 months. In Brazil, new online portals will enable the public and media to track contracts and expenditures for the upcoming World Cup and Olympics, helping prevent waste and abuse. And the publication of heart surgery data in the U.K. means its heart surgery is now demonstrably better than anywhere else in Europe.

To an extent, the open government movement is indicative of the pressures imposed on us by the post-recessionary world. Opening up government data sources increases the bang of each taxpayer buck and creates new commercial opportunities for businesses. An EU economic analysis shows the direct and indirect effects of open data policies could be worth up to 200 billion Euro a year, or 1.7 percent of GDP.

Previous generations have experienced social movements that transcended political boundaries -- such as female emancipation, human rights and environmentalism. These movements transformed the lives of billions for the better. Open government is fast becoming this generation's defining theme.

The momentum is now with us. Governments are working closely with civil society organizations to make new strides on openness, and the world is watching. Governments need to improve the quality of data and challenge official inertia when it prevents its release. We must not let the cynics claim that this agenda is self-serving. For that, political courage will be necessary, as transparency can sometimes shine a harsh light on the way we do business on your behalf. Yet as every good entrepreneur knows, learning from your mistakes is the way you ultimately triumph.

Citizens will no longer tolerate a status quo of ignorance -- they are rightfully demanding a say in how their lives and societies are managed. Let us seize the moment with both hands as we enter the age of open.

Jorge Hage is Minister of State, head of the Office of the Comptroller General of Brazil, and Maria Otero is the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human. They are co-chairs of the OGP International Steering Committee.