Launch of the Research Consortium on the Impact of Open Government

February 8, 2016


Mounting anecdotal evidence supports the case for open government. Sixty-nine national governments and counting have signed on as participants in the Open Government Partnership, committing to rethinking the way they engage with citizens, while civil society organizations (CSOs) are increasingly demanding and building mechanisms for this shift.

Yet even as the open government agenda gains steam, relatively little systematic research has been done to examine the ways different types and sequences of reforms have played out in various contexts, and with what impact. This is due in part to the newness of the field, but also to the challenges in attributing specific outcomes to any governance initiative. While acknowledging that the search for cookie-cutter “best practices” is of limited value, there is no doubt that reform-minded actors could benefit from a robust analytical framework and more thorough understanding of experiences in different contexts to date. 

To address these knowledge gaps, and to sharpen our ways of thinking about the difference that open government processes can make, a range of public, academic, and advocacy organizations established a research consortium to convene actors, leverage support, and catalyze research. Its founding members are Global Integrity, The Governance Lab @ NYU (The GovLab), the World Bank's Open Government Global Solutions Group, Open Government Partnership Support Unit, and Results for Development Institute. The Consortium aims to build on existing research – including but not limited to the work of existing research networks such as the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Opening Governance – to improve our understanding of the effectiveness and impact of open government reforms. That is, to what extent and through which channels do such reforms actually improve transparency, accessibility, and accountability; how does this play out differently in different contexts; and can we trace tangible improvements in the lives of citizens to these measures.

Governments and CSOs around the world have been busy experimenting with initiatives to make governance processes more open, less hierarchical and more collaborative. They have, among other things, disclosed data through sophisticated interactive tools, held hackathons and public meetings to leverage ideas from a wide range of stakeholders, and implemented outreach and educational programs to increase citizens’ voice. However, rigorous, methodologically sound research still trails the action. Governments, civil society, and development partners like the World Bank are charging ahead, but the analytical frameworks and the evidence to inform how they support progress toward more open government remains partial at best.

Countries participating in the Open Government Partnership have signed on to the view that open government is intrinsically good in terms of strengthening civic participation and democratic processes. Governments are also increasingly looking at such initiatives through a return-on-investment (ROI) lens: do such reforms lead to cost savings that allow them to allocate and spend resources more efficiently on public services? Does the availability and accessibility of open government data create economic opportunities, including jobs and new businesses? The Consortium is excited to support innovative research aimed at understanding the extent to which reforms deliver, not only in terms of open governance itself, but also in terms of improved public sector performance and service delivery gains. This focus will also help the Consortium identify research-driven stories of the impact that open governance reforms are having.

The Consortium will rely heavily on the involvement of local actors – members of civil society, public and private sector organizations, academia, the media, and others – from the countries in focus, exploring the potential of action research to support progress toward more open government, as well as more traditional research aimed at addressing “what works?” questions. In addition to strengthening the global understanding of how open government can accelerate equitable development, the Consortium will contribute to a research repository as a way to share findings, encourage discussion, and connect its work with other efforts. We invite you to follow us as we learn more. Please look out for an update in the coming weeks with insights from the first phase of the Consortium’s work, which has focused on taking stock of the relevant actors involved in open government research to date.

About the Consortium members

Global Integrity is a non-profit organization that supports progress toward open and accountable governance in countries and communities around the world. The starting point for our work is a recognition that governance reform is inherently political, with no simple blueprints, and is necessarily led by domestic champions of reform. Our work aims to support these champions as they try, learn, and adapt their way toward reforms that work in their contexts.

The Governance Lab @ NYU  (The GovLab) aims to strengthen the ability of institutions – including but not limited to governments – and people to work more openly, collaboratively, effectively, and legitimately to make better decisions and solve public problems. The GovLab believes that increased availability and use of data, new ways to leverage the capacity, intelligence, and expertise of people in the problem-solving process, combined with new advances in technology and science, can transform governance. @thegovlab

The Open Government Global Solutions Group is a new unit within the World Bank’s Governance Global Practice. Our vision is to strengthen the Bank’s open government support to clients. We work in close collaboration with the Open Government Partnership and aim to help the Bank adopt a collaborative and integrated approach to open government.

The Open Government Partnership Support Unit is a small, permanent secretariat that works to advance the goals of the Open Government Partnership (OGP). The OGP is a multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. In the spirit of multi-stakeholder collaboration, OGP is overseen by a steering committee of governments and civil society organizations.

Results for Development Institute is a non-profit organization whose mission is to unlock solutions to tough development challenges that prevent people in low- and middle-income countries from realizing their full potential. Using multiple approaches in multiple sectors, including Global Education, Global Health, Governance and Market Dynamics, R4D supports the discovery and implementation of new ideas for reducing poverty and improving lives around the world.

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