Open Government in North Africa - Episode 3 Transcript

Published on

In this episode...

In this episode, Open Governance and Egov is the theme. we are joined by Nibal Idlebi , chief of the innovation section at UN-ESCWA and Alessandro Bozzini policy analyst at the OECD, open government unit.


Digitally Yours Podcast


Host: In this episode, Open Governance and Egov is the theme. You may already want to know the difference. This is sthg we would look into in this episode. we will also look to have an overview of the current situation in the region and way more.

To further understand this topic, we have with us

Nibal Idlebi, chief of innovation section at UN ESCWA

Alessandro Bozzini policy analyst at the OECD, open government unit and coordinates part of their work in the MENA region

Recently, the UN ESCWA and OECD published a new report titled The Economic and Social Impact of Open Government Policy Recommendations for the Arab Countries report.

Stay tuned as we will be discussing the findings of the report and dive deep into the topic

Part 1: Deconstructing Limiting ideas

Q: The report makes a differentiation between the institutional setting for e-government, focused on ICTs, and that for open government, focused on governance. Why is it important to make this differentiation and why we should focus on open government as a critical pillar?

Alessandro Bozzini: Indeed e-government or digital government, as we call it at OECD, and open government are two concepts related to each other but they are not the same thing. E-government or digital government can be a strong enabler of open government. E-gov is related to the use of modern ict technologies to provide better public services, while the open government is a culture of governance aiming at transparency, accountability and participation. Therefore,  ICTs can indeed support openness for example think of the platforms that enable citizens to interact with the authorities, the apps that offer the opportunity to provide feedback or wrongdoings, transparency portals and so on that we see in some OECD countries but also in Morocco and Tunisia. But e-government doesn't automatically lead to openness In some cases, it can even work against openness. In addition, open government initiatives can also be low tech, if you think of a citizen filing an access to information request and analyzing government contracts, that is an open government initiative that doesn't require ict. Therefore, it is important that digital government is in line with the objective of open government and promote transparency, accountability and participation. It is not automatic but can be an open government tool.

Q: While some may think of administrative procedures and “skipping the line” when they first hear the term e-gov, the report highlights that e-gov has more to offer to enhance participation and promote the right to information. How is that? 

Nibal Idlebi: You are right. The report mentions very well that e-government can promote and help open government. In terms of participation, for example, there are many aspects where e-government can support and enhance the participation of citizens in decision making and the government work as a whole. For example, the most important one is openness, openness of data. As you may know, many countries in the region have e-government well established, they collected enormous sets of data that are very important and relevant to society. Opening up this data would enhance the participation of citizens. It will enhance as well transparency and accountability. Through the openness of data, and in fact, whenever we have access to information data in countries that have such laws, in North Africa, we have it in Morocco and Tunisia, this means that government commit to openness by default which is very interesting for citizens, except of course when the data is related to security or sovereignty of the country. This is one of the forms. Digital platforms available today through e-government can enhance the participation of citizens in government strategic decisions and can be used this way through government portals for important initiatives in the country, for drafting laws, checking public opinion in any regulation related to any sector. not only ict of course. Another form is direct to e-government services where people can provide their comments and feedback about the provided services of the e-gov programs. Government can enhance these services to fulfil the requirements of citizens.

Part 2: An Overview of the region

Q: Some countries in the region are taking initiatives to adopt open government practices. Several of these initiatives are on a local level in municipalities for instance. What are your thoughts on the current stage of open gov adoption and why is it important to act locally as well as nationally?

Alessandro Bozzini: It is difficult to provide one single answer. The region is very wide and countries at different levels of adopting open government initiatives. I encourage whoever is interested to read our OECD and Escwa joined report which gives a better overview. At the OECS, we work on this topic with Morocco, Tunisia in the North Africa region, but also Jordan and Lebanon.  I have to say most of these countries made progress in recent years in different aspects such as the legal framework, Nibal spoke of the access to information laws that are now a reality. Some countries joined the open government partnership, launched participation platforms. Of course, there are challenges. Open government as a culture of governance takes time. So,  the implementation of legal texts,  the new legal frameworks will take time. Some of the initiatives are still at the very beginning and will take time. The implementation and practice is often a bit slow. As for the local level that you mentioned, it is an important level because for many citizens that is where they interact with public authorities. It is very concrete and related to basic services, schools, education, health... It is very concrete and often less politically sensitive. So, it is easier to launch new brave initiatives of openness at the local level. Local initiatives in most countries include participation platforms, citizen budgets, deliberate citizen assembly. Local authorities in Tunisia, Morocco and Jordan are implementing similar initiatives. One caveat is that these initiatives are often scattered. So it is important to try to ensure a certain level of coordination between these initiatives but also between the national and local levels, a certain vertical coordination. It is very important because on the one hand to scale up these initiatives, they are sometimes very encouraging but are very limited to one or a couple of municipalities, but also to ensure the consistency of efforts on the national level. Open government as a culture of governance should be implemented on all levels both national and local are very important.

Q: Speaking of implementation of initiatives, can we follow up and measure/understand the impact they have in the real world? if yes, how?

Nibal Idlebi: The question of measurement is quite complex. And it is at the head of many decision-makers and citizens. In fact, it is always easier to measure what we are doing when we specify specific goals. it is easy to measure. However, measuring their impact is much more complex. It needs a more sophisticated methodology. And in general, when we measure the impact there are many elements that contribute to this impact not only what we are doing in one initiative. There are many factors that affect the impact. In general, we can monitor what we are doing and that's relatively easy. For the open government in general what we are interested is its goal to achieve transparency, accountability, efficiency, reducing corruption.. All of these factors are important for open government.  However, as you might know, these are very complex and many factors contribute to them. For example, for e-government which is in a way providing services for Citizens electronically, it is relatively easy and there are many measurements today available. There is the UN DESA e-government index, a very recognized one, OECD has also very good measurement for digital government. And we can compare countries and regions and it is now very recognized and well demonstrated. It is a way to compare advancements. We prefer to have these measurements to know about the progress of countries rather than to compete between countries globally or at a regional level. For the impact, we can use surveys to know the opinions based measurement or we can have specific elements that could be measured like saving in time or cost or in the budget because they are tangible things we can measure. However, measuring accountability or participation is more complex and need a more sophisticated methodology.

Q: So we can say it is not only about the numbers like the number of visits etc?

Nibal Idlebi: Yes. Everything physical can be measured easily but everything else needs more survey-based rather than a direct measurement. I would like to mention that there are global agreements about a number of indicators of these elements like the rule of law, some of them are provided by many organizations. There are many good metrics. But, It is not about measuring one initiative it is more about the whole system of government that may contribute to such results.

Part 3: Next steps

Q: We spoke of the different aspects and levels that may be considered for actions and initiatives. Coordination is still recommended. Quoting from the report “an open government initiative is more likely to have an impact when it is part of a larger, long-term strategy and is well coordinated with other actions.“ Why is it important to consider long-term goals and coordinate efforts?

Alessandro Bozzini: Yes indeed I fully confirm that quote. At the OECD, we monitor the open government efforts of our member countries and other countries like in the MENA region. And. we have noticed that one of the common challenges is indeed the scattered nature of open government intervention. and the difficulty to ensure a consistent coordinated approach. Why is that? Well because Open government initiatives tend to involve a wide range of institutions and actors like Ministries parliaments., public authorities, civil society and citizens The initiatives tend to be scattered. A lot of good initiatives lack a common understanding, a common goal. That is why a national strategy, vision and strategic approach is needed. In addition, Open government requires leadership from the very top of the country to produce outcomes and a very strategic approach can help build that momentum. As we mentioned earlier, change takes time. We cannot achieve a change of culture of governance in just a couple of years. That's why a long-term perspective is needed. A strategy over 5 or 10 years is probably needed to help build that long term perspective. Also, civil servants And public officials need to be convinced that open government is not harmful And that it is good for the Country, for themselves and good for the trust. It needs time to convince them. It also takes time and effort to convince citizens that this is a new good wy t do things and that it is also useful for them. It also requires dedicated institutions, responsibilities, monitoring evaluation. Therefore, having a strategic approach can provide that, that steering of open government in a country. and that is why the OECD secretariat does propose for its member countries and partner countries to develop national strategies for open government. That is an official document that outlines definitions, objectives, priorities over 5 or 10 years. Since you focus on North Africa, we currently are working with Tunisia and Morocco to develop such a document in a participatory way.

Q: How can ICTs further be used to achieve these goals? In a region where different countries are in different stages of connectivity and are just in different levels of adopting and trusting technology in governance, how do you see the future direction, and can partnerships help?

Nibal Idlebi: Of course, ICT is progressing in the Mena region as well as in North Africa. I would say regional Partnerships are very useful and very good for the region although the disparity. Partnerships are very important for the exchange of best practices and exchange of evolution ideas and of course the exchange of expertise because For example in our work sometimes we rely on experts from Tunisia in other countries like when we worked with Palestine. As you know the Escwa works on the Arab level not only in North Africa. Partnerships are important for the exchange of best practices and so on but it's also important to have a regional framework related to specific topics like ict, government and open gov. This kind of framework which might differ a little from the International framework that exists may take into account the specificities of the region in different topics like ict or governance. In terms of open government for example we rely on the specificities of the region. We are relatively weak in the governance aspect compared to other regions in the world. Having regional framework and strategies and encourages countries that are less developed to move ahead It is a very good tool to convince decision-makers to have these regional strategies which could be customized later on for each country or could be customized for action plans which are very common in OpenGov in this regard. We know OECD is working on the open government action plan for Tunisia, Morocco and Jordan. When we make measurements at a regional level it is a good competition. It could encourage countries to move ahead. It is a good instrument in some cases to have this comparison at a regional level. When we speak of the Arab region as a whole, although some countries are really quite advanced in ICTs, we can mention that some countries like Tunisia and Morocco are advanced in specific areas of ICTs like institutions, the legal framework in general. They are good examples and even good to learn for countries with more advanced inaccessibility for technology like the GCC countries. Looking at the region, partnerships are very useful and can be good instruments at a strategic level, implementation level and measurement level. Of course, there will always be different levels in the region. On Ict, if we look into the Arab region, GCC are more interested in emerging technologies for development for e-gov services or even some parts related to open data and participation. North African countries like Morocco are middle-income countries that are more interested in developing more services that are related to social development openness and participation. While some countries lagging behind are more interested in the basic components in the ict area like having better laws and better infrastructure to enhance the usage of technologies in their countries. When we have partnerships, we may have differentiations of the levels and leaders should be aware of them and that they may exist and maybe the added value as well.

Check us on youtube

Feel more like watching a podcast? Check us out here: