14th Dec, 2015 - 11:48
The concept of open government advocates the need for governmentsworldwide to provide general public access to the political, economic,and legal data and processes that run the country. Governments globally are realizing the need and the effectiveness of having open government policies; hence it is not uncommon to witness numerous opengovernment policies being introduced frequently. From the West to the Arab world, there is an imminent paradigm shift from a conservative approach to governing towards a more flexible and liberal one. This shift has brought with itself several examples that demonstrate just how successful and popular the concept of open governmentis proving to be.
Social media has played a crucial role in drivingthe move toward open government. With growing demand from the commercial sector and the public for greater transparency in the legislative processes, and the urge to make their opinions count in the administration of the country, use of internet and especially social media have become inevitable drivers for this change. Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and LinkedIn, along with other social media platforms, have become a forum for political debates, economic discussions and legal analyses; a phenomenon that was unheard of only a few years ago.
What has driven this change? What factors have led to the concept of open government being so attractive to governments around the world? In a word, benefits. The advantages that accrue to governments that have adopted the tools of smart government are easily apparent and happen rapidly. Some of these benefits include:
- Government policies are made accessible: With open governments, the public has greater accessibility to government information which was previously held in confidence. Information about the latest governmental projects, for instance, or updates on how the government is making use of people’s tax money is the kind of information people are now aware of, and hence they are in a betterposition to analyzeand evaluate their government’soperations. This accessibility has also greatly improved people’s perceptions of how governments should be run; they are now better informed as to the criteria upon which to rate governments, and are subsequently better voters. This is a huge advantage as people now not only know who they are voting for, but also what they are they doing it for.
- Public’s opinions are heard:Social media is to be particularly applauded for this wind of change. Where previously, forums like Facebook or Twitter were just being used to exchange ideas, suggestions and information, they are now being incorporated bythe governments themselves to provide the people a platform for discussions on government issues. Several mayor councils and parliaments now have Facebook pages whereon people can easily discuss ongoing political matters and give their suggestions. Similarly, many mayor councils around the world invite people to give their suggestions on how the council’s performance can be improved. This interaction has considerably helped in building a bond of trust between the government and the general public, something that is often found to be lacking in most countries.
- Transparency is ensured: With open government policies there is greater transparency in terms of how the government is running the country and what it is doing in the interests of the general public. People are now more empowered because they have a platform to voice their opinions, without the fear of reprimand. What is more, with more transparent regimes it has become possible for people to raise their voice against corruption and bring the doers of injustice to the book.
International Best Practices
With these benefits and the added cost effectiveness that open governments offerby going virtually online, many governments have now adopted policies to uphold this regime.Some examples are:
- In 2012, New York City’s Mayor Mike Bloomberg announced the launching of streams on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and Foursquare to help New Yorkers get information more effectively. The news streams were launched to let more people knowmore quickly and easily how the mayor was running the city. Since then, tweets on city news, press conferences, and government policies are largely shared to these media. information on the latest projects and development plans, updates on investments and live streams of mayoral meetings are also made part of these forums to ensure that every citizen gets the information he or she is entitled to.
- The use of Facebook by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the US is yet another example of how public services are incorporatingsocial media in an attempt to embrace open government policies. The FBI uses its Facebook page to keep track of complaints and cases, and to ensure that its services reach as many people as possible.
- Even less-developed countries are pursuing the notion of open governments. In March 2014, the government of Sierra Leone submitted a National Action Plan by the Open Government Partnership, a steering committeededicated to increasing citizens’ involvement through the use of social media. The committee successfully set up a Facebook page which currently hosts 230 members and is aimed at encouraging discussions on open government policies.Similarly, the committee uses ‘Whatsapp’ to attract as many youth users in the country as possible to create awareness and garner support for open government policies.
- The Obama Government, when it assumed office in 2009, signed the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government to bridge the gap between the American people and the government. This move was intended to hold the government accountable for its actions, to strengthen its motto of freedom of the masses, and to encourage civic engagement.
Local Best Practices
Where on one hand the West has witnessed a boom in the open government policies, on the other hand, the Arab world has been somewhat slower in embracing this mode of government. However, despite the traditional difference in governance between the West and the Arab world, it is surprising to see that gradually Arab countries are incorporating more and more open government policies. Some of the most evident examples include:
- The Abu Dhabi government recently announced its move towards e-government. This idea of a smart government includes attempts by the Abu Dhabi government to incorporatesocial media in its public sector and use it as a platform for interaction with the general public. To this end, the government of Abu Dhabi has taken several initiatives to engage citizens in government affairs. One such attempt has been the introduction ofCityGuard, an application that allows people to report crimes and other incidents by uploading photographs and videos through the application. The properauthorities are notified immediately, helping them to locate the perpetrators and resolve the incident more quickly.
- The Open Government Data Forum which was held in UAE in April this year marked a turning point in the approach to governance adopted by Arab countries. The forum, which was the first of its kind being held in the region, focused on strategies that would allow the smart governments in the UAE to make data available for useby the public and help the governments provide greater value to them.
With the concept of open government gaining popularity in Abu Dhabi and the increased use of social media by the public sector, the country is on its way to delivering greater value to its citizens. This could act as a milestone in the country’s achievement of Vision 2030, and in becoming an even more influential economic hub in the world.by