“One of the most favorable outcomes of encouraging collaboration between civil society organizations and the Regional Council is improved communication,” reflected a Moroccan civil society leader at the conclusion of Béni Mellal-Khénifra region’s open government reform co-creation process.
Since 2016, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) has promoted open government reform and collaboration at the local level, offering a set of standards and a framework for local leaders, activists, and residents to boost transparency, accountability, inclusion, and participation. Two projects in Béni Mellal-Khénifra, Morocco and El Kef, Tunisia, offer lessons and recommendations for how open governance processes can help stakeholders advance democratic governance reforms at the local level. Stakeholders invited the National Democratic Institute (NDI) to facilitate inclusive convenings and access to international experiences and lessons learned.
Béni Mellal-Khénifra, Morocco
In 2020, the Béni Mellal-Khénifra regional government - eager to align itself with the national efforts to promote OGP and to integrate with an international good governance platform – began co-creating an open government action plan with local civil society groups. They identified three priority areas: strengthen open budgets, advance policy innovation, and develop an open regional development plan. Together, they launched an online platform to receive public suggestions and opinions on the open regional development plan process.
In accordance with its commitment, the Regional Council convened and led consultations with hundreds of representatives from more than 80 civil society organizations and the region’s five provinces. These consultations - traditionally a closed process - marked a significant shift in the region’s outreach practices.
By the time OGP Local officially accepted Béni Mellal-Khénifra as a member in May 2022, the regional council and civil society partners were already planning activities to open the public budget. Béni Mellal-Khénifra is an example of how the desire to join OGP membership can bring together government and civil society and open the door to potentially transformative open government reforms. Importantly, it shows how interest in the OGP framework as a high profile and credible way to help the Council respond to national government openness initiatives kick-started a process to improve the regional council’s coordination and consultation practices with provincial officials and regional civil society groups.
El Kef, Tunisia
Despite joining OGP Local in 2021, El Kef’s OGP process had stalled later that year, in part because the government had not prioritized a role for civil society in taking action or monitoring. Similarly, only a limited number of groups and civil society organizations were aware of the agenda and plans for implementation.
NDI facilitated training on standards and expectations for open government processes to help restart the process. In the words of one El Kef official, “The key added value was in delivering multiple information sessions and emphasizing the role of civil society in preparing the action plan and in implementing the four commitments jointly with the municipality of El Kef.” Training also offered a venue for informal collaboration and dialogue between the two groups, building trust and collegiality. By the end of 2021, civil society and government partners reaffirmed their support for the action plan and, together, prepared to move forward with implementation.
After an open call for participation, El Kef’s steering committee - with an equal number of civil society and government representatives - assigned relevant civil society organizations and municipal agencies responsibilities for specific commitments. In the months since, El Kef has made consistent progress in implementing commitments, such as an internal audit system and digital spaces to access services, preserve digital archives, and promote inclusion.
The case of El Kef showed the importance of identifying communication gaps and building a common understanding of open government and the direction of the co-creation process is an important investment to support the implementation of commitments.
Recommendations and Lessons Learned
Drawing on these experiences, NDI’s latest report identifies promising approaches, lessons, and challenges in starting, implementing and sustaining open local government reform processes. In the spirit of OGP’s 2023-2028 goal to become the home for inspiration, innovation, evidence and stories on open government, as well as its goal to invest in strategic alliances and partnerships as reinforcers and amplifiers of open government principles, the findings and recommendations aim to assist and encourage local reform champions and the international assistance community engaging with OGP at the local level.