Author: 
Ana Rivoir
Javier Landinelli
Publication Date
June 1, 2017
Affiliation: 

Universidad de la Republica (Rivoir); UdelaR (Landinelli)

This research brief looks at the experience of open governance in Uruguay. It analyses the creation and implementation of the Open Government National Action Plan (OGP-NAP) to understand its impact on citizen agency and participation in the country. Specifically, this case study examined if the information and communication technology (ICT)-supported citizen engagement processes underpinning OGP-NAPs have transformed democratic governance or whether they remain a superficial exercise to reinforce politically correct visions of open government. The key focus of analysis, which drew on national statistics, analysis of policy documents, and semi-structured interviews was the bargaining process among stakeholders - how different actors were able to adapt and collaborate to develop the course of action.

As is explained here, since 2006, Agency of Electronic Government and Information and Knowledge Society (AGESIC) has promoted the incorporation of ICTs in public administration. The first OGP-NAP was implemented in 2012. Through the NAP, an institutionalised multi-stakeholder discussion mechanism - the Open Government Work Group - has been established through a Presidential Decree. The NAP incorporates citizen engagement in its objectives and has created a model of participatory governance that promotes citizen participation and advocacy. The political will to seek citizen involvement - to understand needs and improve living conditions - is put to action through the implementation of dialogue mechanisms for co-construction of the NAP. Digital technologies are deployed as part of this process. This and subsequent NAPs have incorporated citizen engagement in its objectives to improve government transparency, accountability, and responsiveness, and have been developed though a multi-stakeholder consultation process.

The brief outlines the strengths and weaknesses of OGP-NAPs (2012-2018), noting that, despite the rhetoric in the policy, citizen engagement processes have met with challenges. It is noted that citizen engagement in the NAP happens through representatives from civil society organisations (CSOs), which provides citizens an avenue to influence the process but does tend to limit the participation of a broader range of actors. A significant number of CSOs are unable to take part in the process, as co-creation and collaboration capacities required are different from that in traditional cultures of participation. The creation of the Open Government Network has increased and diversified the number of CSOs taking part in the process, legitimising it and enabling deliberation, but to initiate a process of cultural change within the administration will need time and resources. The most committed and leading CSOs in the process are relatively new; their members are young and use ICTs extensively. However, the capacity among CSOs to influence the process is asymmetrical. Those with higher organisational capacities, able to accomplish constructive dialogue, and forge relationships with government counterparts are able to co-create commitments, achieve goals, and advocate effectively.

The case study concludes that the actions of social agents taking part in the governance process created by the implementation of OGP-NAPs do not merely reproduce the patterns of the system, but are gradually modifying it, creating adaptations and small transformations in its structure. The most relevant change this process has introduced is the shift from a representative to a deliberative democratic approach. That said, "[w]hile all actors involved in the NAP implementation agree that a bottom-up approach in the plan creation process has boosted participation, participatory initiatives in the NAPs have had limited impact overall. Government end efforts seek to engage civil society and citizen participation in public policy, specifically in open data access. However, these new modalities are not widely used nor are they extended to policy processes in all domains."

Recommendations for public policy, based on this research, include:

  1. "Citizen engagement mechanisms in public policy need to be expanded and improved to deepen social and governmental democratisation. New and innovative civil society initiatives that demonstrate the democratising potential of collaborative methodologies can be adapted and replicated in public administration.
  2. Government capabilities to support co-creation and collaborative development of public policies need to be strengthened through a suitable legal framework, financial resources, and spaces of participation for civil society organisations. Towards this, the government in Uruguay needs to:
    • Increase ICT-mediated participation to improve the efficiency of NAPs processes.
    • Expand participatory mechanisms through training programs for civil servants.
  3. Advocacy spaces need to be made available for young actors willing to take part and introduce innovations in the process.
  4. All actors involved in the process should continue to work on building further technical capacities as well as trust-based cooperation mechanisms.
  5. The government needs to demonstrate the political will to engage citizens and to open up official data in order to strengthen and consolidate ICT-mediated public policy co-creation.
  6. Democracy in digital times requires a revisiting of regulatory frameworks. In order to institutionalise, legitimise and facilitate transparent co-creation of policies by civil society organisations, the implementation of the access to public information law needs to be strengthened. A new law on volunteerism is also necessary."

This research brief is part of the IT-for-Change-led Voice or Chatter? - a multi-country case study analysis about how ICT-mediated citizen engagement can be empowering for citizens and transformative for democratic governance outcomes. Voice or Chatter? was funded by Making All Voices Count.

Source: 

OpenDocs from IDS, August 11 2017. Image credit: People by Adiba Taj from the Noun Project. Government by Ralf Schmitzer from the Noun Project. Speech Bubbles by R Rook from the Noun Project