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Reflections on the Open Government Partnership Annual Event

José M. Alonso · April 27, 2012

OGP LogoLast week, I was in Brasilia to attend the Open Government Partnership annual event. I was completely exahusted when I was boarding the flight that would take me back home last Thursday, but thinking how great the week was. And there were many reasons for that.

In the first place, I arrived a couple days in advance of the meeting to have some one-to-one meetings and to organize what was the first meeting of ourĀ  “Open Data Research (South)” project that took place on Monday right before the OGP event. For me, it was a big success; a very nice and interesting discussion on the impact of Open Data in general and the developing world in particular, that I could share with 20 really smart peers. A summary report and compilation of proceedings is in the works and will be published soon. Stay tuned.

On the OGP event itself, I have to recognize I attended few sessions as I had several more one-to-one meetings scheduled and many more that were arranged on the fly. I spoke at a session on “Challenges of Open Data Portals” delivering again our vision on seeing well beyond the portals. and attended two more on Open Data and OGP action plans in Africa, very interesting ones and certainly well chaired, plus the opening plenary panel.

So if you want more thoughtful reports of what happened there, David Eaves and Tim Davies (who also participated in meeting on Monday) wrote interesting pieces, Alex Howardliveblogged and interviewed quite a few interesting people and you could add many more out there. I agree with some of their highlights but I would also like to tell you a bit about my very personal take aways.

The Conference Model, Organization, Logistics

  • The conference model was way better than at the previous event in New York. Open registration this time meant that 1000+ people were in attendance and the governments did not run a separate event. The African action plans session, as an example, had three ministers representing governments of Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa plus three representatives of Civil Society Organizations, one per each of the countries just mention. This led to a very interesting back and forth interaction between demand and supply sides and fostered interesting questions from the audience in that packed room.
  • This model also improved the level of the attendants in terms of interest and expertise. I found last time too many diplomats with no knowledge of #opengov or anything like that and with little interest in learning more. This time, I found many known faces, and met even more interesting people over the two main days of conference.
  • But there are things to be fixed. The opening plenary with the Presidents, etc. had no CSO representative at the table and neither the audience nor the media were allowed to make any questions.
  • The late start of the opening plenary (90+ mins) and no announcements on how the schedule for the rest of the day was going to be affected (despite who you asked in the organization) made it quite difficult to plan for the rest fo the day.
  • There were probably too many side events going on in parallel. At a given time slot you could choose from around eight and some were very similar. We cancelled our independent side event on the fly to join an official one on #opendata with a wrong title but very similar content. I personally tried to connect with the organizers of that panel (through the support unit) in advance to coordinate both efforts but didn’t hear back. Probably too many things going on. I recommend next time for the panels to be clustered by topic, e.g. in thematic tracks.
  • Once again, one-to-one meetings and talking to people in the corridors were the most useful bit for me.
  • No Internet connectivity on the first day of conference made impossible to have online interactions that usually enrich these events.

Content, ActorsMetropolitan Cathedral, Brasilia

  • As more countries are joining the OGP, the participation of Civil Society Organizations is also steadily increasing. At the CSOs meeting in NYC after the conference there were some 40 people in attendance while at this one, easily some 200 could be in the room. This means they also need to increase their efforts in coordinating their actions across countries not to replicate them but to build on successes. I was too tired at the end of the second conference day when sitting in the room at the CSOs meeting but my impression is that this was a core part of their agenda.
  • Many OGP action plans are still very loose. I guess this is ok as OGP is just starting but this means that those CSOs will have to keep up with their watchdog role consistently, first for the governments to improve the plans themselves, then to monitor the commitments in there are implemented.
  • We discussed at our meeting on Monday about benefits and impacts of #opendata at length. I had many more discussion about this and Monitoring and Evaluation of #opendata and #opengov initiatives at the conference itself. We’re still building on the promises but it’s difficult to demonstrate the impacts. We really need to do more serious work in this area and challenge ourselves as advocates of the #open approach about its real outcomes.
  • There seems to be still much confusion about the differences between #opendata and #opengov. Even when I’m a strong #opendata advocate, I don’t think that the discussions on #opengov have to be 90% driven by #opendata.

All in all, this was a great event. It’s becoming (if it’s not already) the one to go to annually in the #opengov space. I hope exciting progress will happen before the next annual event (I for one will do my part) and I hope to meet even more interesting people there, likely in London in March 2013.

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