Why do we call it “Open Government” when we mean… ?

I share here a contribution I just posted to the debate  How do we define Open Government? [es] that Alberto Ortiz de Zárate started some days ago at novaGob:

Dimensions of Open Government (OpenGov Standards)

Dimensions of Open Government (OpenGov Standards)

Hi everybody,

After a few days discussing about a possible definition for “Open Government” (OG) we have clearly seen how, on the one hand, we all share a wide common understanding of what we mean when we talk about OG. However, we have also seen there are little details and nuances that cause polemic and make it difficult to define, operationalize and, therefore, to bring OG into practice.

As I read through your contributions, a trascendental doubt formed in my head, which is worrying me much. Namely, the suspicion that when we talk and theorize about Open Government we could be passionately calling “love”… something that clearly is  something else; something that we all know well but which is rather rude to mention directly.

And no, I do not mean “sex”, but something even better: “democracy” 🙂

And indeed: most of the dimensions that have been suggested for OG, like radical transparency, accountability and control mechanisms, administrative efficiency and effectiveness (including inter-administrative collaboration), citizen-government collaboration, and a constant drive for self-improvement… all them seem to me to be all basic, essential requirements of what we call Democracy.

Any government system which does not include all of them… could hardly be described as democratic in the XXI century. And this could very well be the fact that no one wants to acknowledge: that most of our “Real Existing Democracies” have very little democracy in them. If we want to achieve all those improvements, why would we resort to the “Open Government” speech instead of directly demanding a better, real democracy?

We might think, on the one hand, that the OG discourse enables and accelerates change in the desired direction. According to this view, the “hype” that has been generated around OG and the commitments countries do when joining the Open Government Partnership… allow us to move forward and overcome the many existing resistances. And, to some extent, I am sure this view is right.


But we could also think of OG as a “placebo policy”: thus, after the ‘New Public Management’ went out of fashion… this new “bait” would have been invented to keep us all distracted, once again proclaiming a revolutionary transformation which, in practice, only alters the surface of the power structures, while retaining its essential elements.

In the case where I demand “REAL DEMOCRACY, damn it!!”, no half-measures are accepted: extreme transparency is required, as soon as possible, because it is my right to have it and not as a favor the government grants me in the grade and occasion that suits them at best. And for sure, at the same time I request transparency I also want everything else: accountability, effectiveness, and mechanisms for control and collaboration. It’s all or everything, which I will demand with my votes but also in the streets, in the courts and wherever is needed.

The Open Government approach makes it easier for governments to pursue just cosmetic changes, like: “Have you seen the datasets portal we created with the support of a  super-consultant. We are getting higher in the transparency rankings. If we keep this pace in ten years we could start thinking about tackling the next level, that of participation”. The recent interview to César Cruz [es] shows that, unfortunately, this is the attitude that has prevailed in Spain .

So… let’s remain alert to avoid falling into the “dark side” of Open Government . We should not be part of the “gattopardist” armies, which in fact defend what they think they are fighting against. We should really aims for profound changes in the democratic political culture.

As Clinton would say, “Open Government? It’s real democracy , stupid!”

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