With just 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.