"CITIZENSHIP begins with self-reliance, independent livelihoods and knowledge of and adherence to societal rules. But citizenship is more than that: it is a sense of ownership of social problems and solutions, which entails taking collective responsibility in a way that transcends private interests. Citizenship is something that relates to society; government has no say in it. What government can do, however, is play its own role in a way that gives individuals and civil society organisations more leeway. This demands a different attitude from government: demand-driven rather than supply-driven, not making rules for every contingency but entering into dialogue, sometimes doing nothing at all, acting as a partner instead of always as a lawmaker. Elected officials and public servants at central government, provincial and local level as well as civil society organisations will have to work on transforming their culture. This requires readiness to loosen the reins and trust to the inventiveness of ordinary people."
Not many people are entirely sure about what “open government” is. I think the term is misleading –what we are usually talking about when we discuss "open government" transparency, participation, accountability, representativeness, engagement, collaboration, responsiveness, etc. etc. etc., is really open governance; that is, the process of government --of rule-making and policy-setting, and of organizing social behavior. The end goal here isn't that we should, all together, construct a perfect version of the State as though the State could ever be some flawless externality, removed from us and working outside of us once our preferences are voiced. Rather, (as Clay Shirky discusses in Ch. 5 ("Culture) of his book, Cognitive Surplus we want to construct a process of governance –in effect, a coherent and shared culture of how we order things for ourselves. Open governance is a feature of open source culture in general, and because it is a culture it is dynamic, organic, responsive, and constantly changing.
Maybe it shouldn't surprise anyone that Russia's Open Government Partnership (OGP) Action Plan does not discuss open government in these terms. Openness is not (and simply has not been) a signal trait of Russian government. Co-bloggers (@design & @campaigns) in the Government 3.0 Class have already noted the lack of political openness in Russia, as evidenced in fraught elections and the infamous incarceration of the band Pussy Riot. Then why is Russia even bothering with the OGP initiative? Chris Vein, Chief Innovation Officer at the World Bank, suggested in the Gov 3.0 class on February 6th that being part of the open government “club” of nations might be a point of pride in a country's international standing. So is Russia saying, “look at me! I'm part of the big kids' club!”..?
And, having read Russia's Action Plan and compared it to the plans of several other nations (notably the Netherlands', which is the country ranked second in oppeness by the World Justice Project's Rule of Law Index), it's clear that Russia is saying essentially that. The Russian plan is riddled with vague and ambiguous references to various bodies of authority and immunities and contains, as primary goals, the development of the Russian state-mechanism and economy. I sense one strand of thought pervading the entire document: that of statism.
To “involve society in the decision-making process” (Russia's open government priority #1) means, in the context of open governance, that government should establish a two-way flow of information sharing, problem-solving, and decision-making. What this calls for is collaboration, and not just deliberation. As Prof. (Beth) Noveck contends in Wiki Government, deliberation is a “normative, democratic ideal” (Noveck, 36) where “consensus is desirable as an end unto itself” while “collaboration is a means to an end” (Noveck, 39). That end, of course, is better governance –of, by, and for the people. Russia's Action Plan hints over and over that this point has been missed.
What follows are some examples (taken from the Russian Action Plan) of non-collaborative logics and statist-development plans, with comments:
“TO IMPROVE communication between power and society it is necessary to have feedback when solving key tasks of socio-economic development of the country.”: This should be totally reworded to: “To transform the relationship between government and society is it necessary to have an open dialogue with open information flow” --and then we can decide what the key tasks are.
"WITHIN THE FRAMEWORK of “Open government” system creation in Russia the development of network structures which provides horizontal movement of information and practically erases the distinction among elected politicians, professional bureaucracy, expert community and institutions of civil society, and also of the use of modern technologies (including technologies of expert involvement and crowdsourcing) to involve the significant number of people who represent the opposite points of view and interests in the process of collecting and analysis of information, discussion and working out of solutions.” : While it's true that democratic deliberation (and the gathering of many various/differing points of view) is important to open government, it is not true that distinctions between various kinds of experts cease to exist. If anything, Russia should develop networked structures which highlight different areas of expertise, both so as to clarify which issues actually need attention (and from where that attention should come), and to empower meaningful (rather than wanton) participation.
“TRANSPARENCY AND OPENNESS in politics will improve quality of decision-making and quality of the state mechanism in general and also will form the new culture for Russia of interaction, searching for compromise and mutually beneficial decisions.” : Open government is not necessarily about compromise, but about best practices. The quality of decision-making will not improve only through transparency but also through the State's active role in engendering participation at the policy-making level. The quality of decision-making will only meaningfully improve through direct collaboration with citizens.
"THE IMPLEMENTATION OF the key measures along the vectors of the Strategy is planned to result in Russia’s ability to rank among the top 20 leading countries of the world in developing information society. Russia is also supposed to rank not below the 10th position in international ratings on the accessibility of national information and telecommunications infrastructure for the parties active in the information medium. The share of national goods and services in the overall domestic market of information and telecommunications technologies is to be no less than 50%." : Russia should not emphasize this nationalist/statist vision of development. Open government is not about international rankings –this perverts the whole idea. It's about true openness –the kind of thing you can foster a global culture for. This kind of rhetoric births distrust in the government because rankings hardly matter to ordinary people who care more about whether or not government policies immediately affect them, at home.
"THE KEY MEASURE of the Strategy is the creation of a public centers system of access to the state information resources." : The state similarly should create a government centers system of access to public information resources, and this system (just like the public one) should promote meaningful uses of data and opinion –like We The People.
"MULTIPURPOSE ELECTRONIC CARDS should be placed in operation in 2012 to facilitate access to state services. It is assumed that citizens will use it to get access to the system and state services, and also to perform legally significant acts in electronic form. In the future these cards may replace passport, medical insurance policy, certificate of pension insurance and bank cards." : Open government is not about being able to better keep track of your citizens, neither is it about consolidating identifying information about citizens. This seems only useful for the state. Open government is about how pensions and banks themselves work. Yes, people want better access to state services –but people also want to talk to the state, and talk to each other.
In its Action Plan Russia has not, as the United States administration has (largely through the Freedom of Inforation Act) “established a clear presumption in favor of openness” (U.S. Action Plan to be found here). The Dutch Government makes an adroit point in its Action Plan concerning timing, that it doesn't make sense to “make statements” about open government and then only afterwards consult government and government agencies about what open government actually means. Russia should lead a multi-agency effort in consultation with the public in order to coordinate extant agency/institutional needs and problems, which are then developed into a government-wide initiative, much like Obama's Open Government Memo and subsequent Office of Management and Budget Directive.
Getting Russian officials to be accountable will require more than releasing their income statements. Sunlight should shine on what policies they adopt, stand for, and vote on; the extent to which they pursue their commitments; and the readiness with and degree to which they respond to public comment. An open government means more than being able to see transparently what is going on within the state –it also means the state should meaningfully be able to see what is going on in the public. That means transparency must be two-way, and productivity comes out of collaborative problem-solving based on that transparency. Online platforms for information sharing and problem-solving should be places where communities form to match skills to needs.
Russia should develop an open vetting system that allows the public to cross-check against government decisions and initiatives in the creation of infrastructure for public involvement. That means open-sourced metrics for efficacy and success, as well as open-source mechanisms for public feedback (and not necessarily only expert feedback).
The Dutch Government got it exactly right. Its Action Plan states that, “rather than citizens participating in processes initiated by government, we are headed towards a situation in which processes that government participates in are citizen-powered.”