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Open Up! That’s the call that went out from the meeting of the Open Government Partnership in Brazil this week, where more than 1,100 representatives from governments and civil society came together to promote open, transparent and accountable governance.

The event began with opening speeches from a high-level panel including Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Quoting Abraham Lincoln in her opening remarks, Secretary Clinton defined “open government” as government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

ONE was in Brazil to help to ensure that the potential of OGP to accelerate progress on poverty reduction is fulfilled and to make three key points.

  • First, that open government must be about more than making information available. It’s also about enabling citizens to use that data, to hold governments to account and to participate in policy-making.
  • Second, that open government must be about how governments relate to those they serve, a country’s citizens, and that the Open Government Partnership must always and everywhere have citizen action at its core.
  • Third, in their efforts to improve government and governance, countries should pay attention to cross-border issues, including global development issues, as well as domestic concerns.

In perhaps the best speech of the whole event, President Kikwete of Tanzania emphasized that open government must be about things that matter to ordinary people — better health services, improved access to water, higher quality education. As President Kikwete put it: “To a pregnant woman, open government should stand for the assurance of quality care and the safe delivery of her baby.” Other countries from sub-Saharan Africa were also represented at OGP, including Ghana, South Africa and Kenya, Africa’s leader on open data.

The meeting demonstrated the amazing progress that the Open Government Partnership has made since its first eight members presented their action plans in September 2011. There is huge enthusiasm and energy and great potential. And the Open Government Partnership has made a real difference, contributing to the passing of improved freedom of information laws, for instance in Brazil, and encouraging the USA -– showing leadership on extractives transparency -– to sign up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

However, there is much hard work to be done, to ensure that civil society is able to engage fully as action plans are implemented, to enable countries to learn from each other, to build bridges between different varieties of open government enthusiasts and to ensure that the potential of OGP is realized. As the UK Government takes over the co-chairing of OGP from the US, we will be working hard alongside other civil society organizations to keep things on track and to make sure that fighting poverty remains part of the UK Government’s plans for OGP.

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