Carles Agusti i Hernàndez. Open Government Director Diputació de Barcelona.
Thanks to the changes that have taken place in society in recent years or even decades, public bodies have been transformed internally, both in the way the communicate with citizens and vice versa, and in the way, they do politics. We could say, as it should be, that it’s society, the people, who with their own evolution – and also pressure – have brought about this irrevocable change. Those who don’t understand this change or agree with it will become obsolete.
In the rather passive 80s and early 90s, people would just vote in an election every four years and then left matters in the hands of the elected politicians, and democracy was still being established after a forty-year dictatorship. But now, thanks to social and generational evolution we have become a more active society that is more aware of itself and of its rights; a society that wants to know, discover, understand, participate and contribute. It’s such a powerful change that resistance is futile – rather, we have to embrace it as an opportunity.
There have been and will be many formulas and specific actions to respond to this phenomenon, but the most consolidated one, with its different variables and nuances, is probably the one we know as ‘Open Government’. Open Government is the answer to people’s demands in terms of changing the way of governing and doing politics; it’s the combination of transparency, citizen participation and open data into one single strategy, which is cross-cutting and affects the whole organisation. It’s not just a website – it’s a paradigm shift in the relationship between the government and citizens; it’s an internal and external cultural change based on openness, transparency, pedagogy and citizen involvement.
It’s important to know what Open Government is and what it isn’t, because we’re not talking about superficial policies but real, profound changes in classic structures, both in public bodies and political parties, and in the way they interact with citizens.
Not believing in it but pretending to do so, and presenting policies from a specific department and not cross-cutting policies are two typical defects of policies that are often presented as being ‘Open Government’ but are actually not. Looking at transparency more in detail, it’s not enough to obey the laws or create a check-list with what we have and haven’t got – rather, we must have a transparent attitude. We won’t know how to or be able to make the most of Open Data if there isn’t real and organised management and monitoring of data. And finally, the deepest change has taken place in the area of citizen participation – Open Government gets rid of classic, obsolete participation policies that are understood as isolated groups, like community groups or other platforms where it’s always the same people taking part. These groups don’t make sense as isolated groups any more, but only as part of a wider open government thinking and as tools not to entertain people but to attract people’s knowledge, where quality is more important than quantity.
Beyond political changes, Open Government is also a great opportunity to bring about change, transformation and innovation in public and political management, as it requires, transforms and changes ways of thinking. Let’s make the most of it!