What is the Role of the Private Sector in Open Government?

By Dr. Jong-Sung Hwang

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The Open Government Partnership has become a leading force for advancing transparency and civic engagement in 63 countries. It was founded on a strong partnership between governments and civil society organizations. Recognizing the implications of open governance for economic and democratic development, CIPE has helped to establish an independent Council for Engaging the Private Sector in the Open Government Partnership. The Council is a joint initiative coordinated by the National Information Society Agency of Korea, Microsoft, and the Center for International Private Enterprise. CIPE’s Andrew Wilson, Deputy Director for Strategic Planning, is co-chair. The Council welcomes input from private sector and other stakeholders on the future of engagement in open governance.

Dr. Jong-Sung Hwang, Head of the Korea Big Data Center at the National Information Society Agency, introduces this exciting initiative on the Open Government Partnership blog.

Open government is not a new concept. According to Wikipedia, the idea that government should be open to public scrutiny and responsive to public opinion dates back at least to the time of the Enlightenment. For decades now, the emergence of Freedom of Information legislation and  e-government initiatives have propelled a trend toward building transparent, accountable, and responsive governments.

However, open government has acquired new meaning in the 21st century, facilitated by the development of information technology. Whereas open government in the past meant access to information inside government, it now means not only access but also active sharing of information and collaborative governance between government and civil society. The distinction is that access is a one-directional relationship in which the government side opens up. In contrast, sharing implies bi- or multi-directional relationships and requires opening up and engagement by all sides.

The new version of open government, which aims for shared governance, can be named as open government 2.0. As Tim O’Reilly, advocate of Gov 2.0, puts it, open government 2.0 seeks to “redefine the relationship between citizens and government officials, engaging the citizen as a full participant rather than an observer. Citizens are not passive consumers of government services anymore. Instead, they are actively engaged in producing and delivering government services and sharing the results.

In this collaborative world, the private sector is key to the success of open government 2.0. The private sector has resources, human capital, and problem-solving capabilities that government needs to solve socio-economic problems as well as to improve its operation and services. There are many cases of the private sector contributing to public interests. In Seoul, real time traffic information is now available on every road, based on GPS information provided by taxi companies. In San Francisco, private companies develop new software and applications in order to deliver the 311 service more conveniently to citizens.

The private sector can make various contributions to the goals and functions of the Open Government Partnership. Monitoring is the most basic function within open government. The private sector can help OGP and member governments by providing technical tools  and sites that enable citizens to look into government internal processes. In addition, the private sector can expand public monitoring by opening corporate information closely related with government operation. Participation is about promoting direct and indirect engagement of citizens and business in government decision-making. The private sector can participate actively in the policy process itself and support government to build online participation platforms. Lastly, government data and resources can drive social and economic innovation. The private sector can discover and develop new ways to unlock value from government information. It can also empower other small and medium companies, civic organizations, and citizens to innovate and create new value.

The case for engaging the private sector in open governance goes beyond performance and technical considerations. Introducing transparency, accountability, and trust into government-business relations will transform the business environment and the investment climate. It can promote open public budgeting, clean up procurement, and level the playing field for small businesses. There are also many ways that businesses can prosper from transparency, as Martin Tisné and Benjamin Herzberg’s blogs illustrate.

How exactly to achieve a win-win-win formula for citizens, government, and business is the question being explored by the independent Council for Engaging the Private Sector in the Open Government Partnership. The Council was formed at the sidelines of the 2013 OGP Summit in London and is being led by three co-chairs representing government, civil society, and business respectively. We have been hearing views from major companies and small business representatives from OGP countries, from business associations and other experts. Civil society and governments have important parts as well in framing the private sector role in OGP. These perspectives will be combined in a white paper that lays out private sector contributions to open governance and a strategy for cross-sector cooperation.

We are beginning a conversation that we hope will grow globally, nationally, and in cities everywhere as new platforms and partnerships are born. The Council looks forward to sharing its ideas and gaining new perspectives in May at the OGP Asia Pacific Regional Conference in Bali.

This post originally appeared on the Open Government Partnership blog.