What are "shadow reports" and how are they used to help the Open Government Partnership (OGP) achieve its mission of making governments "more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens"? Though only 13 have been written and posted on the OGP website, Paul Maassen, OGP civil society coordinator, says they provide "an extra tool to push for real government commitment." He recently spoke with NRGI's Fidan Bagirova about the role of such reports in the oil-rich nation of Azerbaijan, one of 64 countries that have joined OGP since 2011.
To learn more about the shadow report that NRGI sponsored, as well as our recent subnational work in Azerbaijan, please view the related blog piece Casting Shadows: An Illuminating Report on Azerbaijan's Struggle for Open Government."
FB: You've received a number of shadow reports from different countries. What is different about the report that NRGI sponsored?
One apparent difference in your report is your focus on the implementation of commitments in two policy areas, which you did in a very comprehensive and thorough way. Another is your focus on the subnational level. Most CSO [civil society organization] monitoring reports focus on the implementation of all commitments at the national level.
FB: What is the primary role of these shadow reports? How will you and the Steering Committee use them?
PM: Their primary role is at the national level, where they inform our views on how well OGP is working for civil society. These and other reports, meetings and conversations help us understand what works and what doesn't work and in that way shape the OGP agenda. By comparison, the IRM [independent reporting mechanism] is a more structured way of gaining insights into country-level performance. Monitoring reports at the national level create a dialogue with the government and build advocacy for civil society in the country.
Civil society monitoring reports—or "shadow reports"—are really important, as they serve as an extra advocacy tool for civil society in their in-country work on OGP. As you know much better than me, you can use it as an extra tool to push for real government commitment to OGP in your country. You can lobby your government, for example, to integrate the findings of your CSO or IRM report into the new action plan.
What we continue to do in 2014 is share these reports via the website and the newsletter with the community, pointing out interesting angles and best practices. Whenever appropriate, we will try to link up people that might want to learn from each other. For example, I might notify interested civil society people in other countries about your report, and the specific subnational focus of implementation of OGP commitments. Within the official OGP structure and mechanism, the civil society monitoring reports don't have an official status.
FB: How do you see relations between OGP and local CSOs? Are there plans to improve that collaboration?
PM: At the moment OGP has adopted the model of national action plans. There is no bandwidth at the international level to accept, support and monitor subnational plans. That said, many countries including Azerbaijan have commitments included in their national action plan that actually need to be implemented at the subnational level. In that way, they are also monitored by the IRM.
We do realize that a lot of interesting innovation is happening at the subnational level, and that that is a level of government that by definition is close to the citizen, where the rubber hits the road.
For the moment the best way to involve the local level is to continue to include such commitments in the national action plan. How to best work with local open government is a topic that comes up regularly in our discussions on OGP strategy, and it's an area where the OGP mechanism might be refined in the coming years.