Russia's draft open government plan pretty neatly encapsulates why we shouldn't port ideas from the West to the Rest. Reading it, I first found myself wondering why the World Bank was involved in funding it. Beyond that, I'd like to know why the Russian government - among the most anaerobic and autocratic in the world - is interested in open government in the first place.
The Russian government is opposed in practice and in spirit to the principles of open government. At the same time they're beginning to implement this plan, they're cracking down on dissidents, building an unchecked and brutal security state, and eroding democratic institutions. The very formation of the plan was undemocratic. It reads like a to-do list for making the bureaucracy more efficient and scrubbing a layer of grime off the anti-corruption laws. It opens with a quote from the notable democratic activist Vladimir Putin. It was clearly written by central state actors, with a thin patina of public participation in order to satisfy bank requirements. A plan so conceived is highly likely to fail, because it lacks buy-in.
At bottom, the problem with the Russian effort is philosophical. They want their government to run more like a business, with less corruption, better interfacing with clients (or "citizens," as they used to be known), more transparent access to information, better coordination of services, and less waste. They seem to think that they can achieve these profit-maximizing outcomes using a combination of e-solutions and crowd sourcing. Unfortunately, government does not operate like a business.
In designing a plan that bypasses democracy but attempts to create an open government, the Russians have fallen into the same fallacy that is undermining democratic traditions in the United States, the UK, and many other countries. They think they can get the benefits of democratic levels of participation, without actually enacting the values of a robust civil society. Government has a fundamentally different set of objectives and ideals than business, and plans for open government need to be rooted in ideology, not in desired outcomes - that's the critical difference between government and business. Government is a higher order system of organizing humanity, so it requires a higher order of ideological backing.
The "government as business," model is a Western export, so it makes sense that the World Bank would be pushing it. It's a simple slipper slope: The Bank thinks that modern, businesslike states should have transparency and open government, the Russians want to keep up with the Joneses (Western Europe and the US), the Bank says they'll pay for it (or support it, or whatever), so the Russians get online and fill out the template the Open Government Project provides, submit it to the world bank, and the tranches start flowing. No serious thought has gone into the idea that western-style open government is probably not appropriate for Russia at all.
Of course, none of the above is very practical from a negotiating standpoint. Chris Vein can't walk into a meeting with the Russkies and say, "Your plan is a sham! You're doing it for corrupt motives! Your Prime Minister is a tyrant and your country is an oil-autocracy!" So what can he say? Russia is moving forward with its experiment - the Bank is funding it and plans are already rolling.
In a society as closed as Russia, openness has to start with a line of light through a single crack. First, Vein should advise the Russians to push back their timelines for most of the action items in their plan. The timeline is unrealistic. Their institutions won't have time to evolve philosophically with the changes and it'll just turn into Potemkin Transparency.
They need to start by publishing their budgets in both a civilian form and an unedited form (item 9.3) and using technology to let citizens monitor the wealth of public officials (item 19). From there, they should develop accountability mechanisms (items 11, 12 and 14) through NGOs. These things will strengthen civil society and lay the groundwork for the kind of radical transparency and technical improvement laid out in the rest of the plan. These are the items that can start the ball rolling for the establishment of a philosophy of transparency.
The current plan just pays lip service to World Bank ideas without considering the state of institutions in Russia. A true open government plan will be grounded in principles, not wedded to outcomes.