Open Government needs Participatory Monitoring & Evaluation for it to thrive

By Veronica Cretu, Co-Chair of the permanent dialogue mechanism on Open Government in Moldova, OGP Envoy 

The Government of Moldova has approved yesterday, November 28th, 2018 its 4th Action Plan on Open Government. It took few months for the plan to undergo an internal review by the Central Public Administration Authorities until it has finally been approved by the Cabinet. Prior to that, a longer co-creation and public consultations took place, with insights and contributions coming from the broader civil society as well as from the members of the Permanent Dialogue Mechanism (PDM) on Open Government, established by the Government early, in summer.

In addition to the plan itself, there is a detailed document with a synthesis of all the feedback/recommendations/contributions provided, accompanied by explanations from the Central Authorities of whether they are included/considered in the plan or not, and why.

Looking into the future, what is most important now is the way the commitments from the Plan are implemented. We know from previous experiences that in most of the cases 1/3 of the commitments were implemented. Why is there such a limited progress?

Lack of proper Monitoring and Evaluation of the National Action plans (NAPs) on Open Government might be one of the reasons. And for a genuine implementation of open government commitments, M & E itself has to be participatory.

What is participation in the first place and why is it important? Participation – is a process through which stakeholders including the poor and the marginalized influence and share control over development initiatives and the resources and decisions that affect them (Source WB).

Intensity of participation:

  • information = one-way flow of information
  • consultation = two-way flow of information
  • collaboration/co-creation = shared control over decision making
  • empowerment = transfer of control over

What is participatory monitoring and evaluation (PME)? It is a process through which stakeholders at various levels – engage in monitoring or evaluating a particular project, program or policy – share control over the content, the process and the results of the M&E activity – engage in taking or identifying corrective actions.

What are the key benefits of participatory M&E:

  • It provides the opportunity to get direct and objective user feedback to service providers or Agencies responsible for the implementation of one commitment or another (depending on the commitments);
  • Key stakeholders become active participants and do not feel as being only as a ‘source of information’ for the IRM (Independent Reporting Mechanism) reports or for the public consultation phase around the draft plan;
  • Increased awareness of the agenda, and shared consensus on commitments that lag behind. It also provides the opportunity to identify the problem with these commitments and intervene in order to ensure that something is done: i.e. identify necessary resources, provide additional expertise, organize a capacity building session, convene key responsible authorities, establish a new partnership or any other solution to help address the situation;
  • Joint learning improves performance and outcomes – each meeting of the PDM (be it online or face-to-face), any online working modality, is a great opportunity to capitalize on the data/results and act further;
  • It increases accountability and transparency and strengthens commitment to implement corrective actions.

In the context of an Open Government Agenda, participatory approach to M&E is a MUST:

  • It promotes dissemination of information and consensus-building about interventions that need to take place for the commitments to get implemented successfully;
  • It allows for a slight re-planning/re-designing when some commitments turn out being completely irrelevant (of course better not to end up in such a situation).
  • Impact assessment: early warning and unintended effects arise at a much earlier stage and allow to intervene, rather than wait and document the lessons learnt;
  • Institutional learning: improving PDM’s focus and performance orientation. It provides, especially the PDM with a great platform for open sharing and learning, and understanding that there are no the right ones or the wrong ones, but rather a co-shared responsibility and the need to acknowledge when things deviate from the desired trajectory.

Here are few examples of the participatory monitoring and evaluation tools which might be relevant to be applied in the context of National Action Plans on Open Government (NAPs).

  • Regular Stakeholder Surveys – it is something that should be done with the members of the Permanent Dialogue themselves, and applied to broader community of public sector, local governments, CSOs, development partners, private sector, media organizations. The survey helps understand the knowledge, attitudes and opinions of the key stakeholders. Data from these surveys can help shape the immediate next steps.
  • Action Plan Scorecard & Dashboard – designed as a participatory tool, it enables key stakeholders and broader citizens’ community to assess the current status of the commitments. The Scorecard would be based on NAPs specific indicators (quantitative and qualitative) and would allow tracking progress on the implementation in a ‘live’ manner. Each indicator would have a target and a baseline data to depart from, and the Scorecard would generate scores for the indicators on a regular basis. There, were the scores are too far from the targets, members of the permanent dialogue mechanism can convene with higher level decision factors and propose solutions for addressing those. Thus, the Scorecard will serve as a great internal tool for the PDM and the Government itself in keeping track on the progress, as well as will allow communicating about the results/progress and overall trajectory to the broader public.
  • Other tools might include: Citizen Report Cards which are survey-based quantitative assessments of public services or commitments based on user feedback rather than on opinions and perceptions. Social Audits are a combination of both qualitative and quantitative methods to examine the impact of an open gov commitment by all relevant stakeholders. We do talk a lot in the OGP space that there is little evidence about the impact of the NAPs overall. Focus groups, SWOT Analysis, PDIA, rankings, are also great to explore on. In the end it all goes to the availability of both human and financial resources to perform an M&E.

The reality on the ground, and am not referring to Moldova only, shows that there are several constraints to participatory approaches to M&E when it comes to NAPs on Open Government and not only. Governments continue just ticking the boxes next to their items in the Action Plans, while CSOs strive to come up with their reports on the progress around the commitments. Everyone continues to work in silos instead of creating synergies around what can be done better.

And this is partly due to:

  • Governance problems and often weak implementation and monitoring capacity;
  • Low responsiveness of public institutions and frustration on the side of those who provide feedback without having any response or reaction;
  • Lack of information and transparency, and even when something is made public, it is written in a language that is far from the ordinary citizens;
  • Various interpretations and understandings of the intensity of participation. For some governments, having a one way flow of information is considered to be participation, for others – public consultations and online consultative platforms is the highest level of participation.

Co-creation, collaboration and empowerment are the advanced levels of participation, which are still in a sort of nascent phase, particularly in young democracies. One can’t impose participatory democracy, however, the efforts should be put in place rather around coalition building and compromise, and governments part of the Open Government Partnership should aim at bringing people’s voices into the decision making, be on the front –line with the accurate data and information, and apply technological innovation to strengthen the values of a democratic governance.

Otherwise, we will still be in the mode of: “People are talking to their governments on 21st-century technology. The governments listen to them on 20th-century technology and provide 19th-century responses.”  (quote from “Fascism: A warning” by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright).

 

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