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Proposals for a Framework for Consultation On the Second Canadian OGP Action Plan

cldA key element of the OGP process is that the country-level action plans should be developed in a broadly consultative manner with local stakeholders. The third common expectation of OGP Participating Countries, as spelled out in the June 2012 Articles of Governance, is that States should:

Develop country action plans through a multi-stakeholder process, with the active engagement of citizens and civil society

Addendum C of the Articles of Governance sets out in some detail the minimum conditions for appropriate consultation, essentially as follows:
• The consultation process and timeline should be set out in advance.
• There should be broad consultations with national stakeholders.
• A summary of the consultation process and submissions should be made available.
• Activities should be undertaken to raise public awareness.
• A variety of consultative mechanisms should be employed, including both online and in-person mechanisms.
• A forum for regular multi-stakeholder consultation should be employed.

The process of consultation with external (i.e. non-government) stakeholders around the first Canadian Action Plan – which consisted essentially of an open online consultation based on three questions for participants to answer, a Twitter Town Hall and one teleconference call with the members of the Advisory Panel on Open Government – has been criticised for failing to respect either OGP rules or minimum established standards for consultation. These Proposals by the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) and Publish What You Pay, Canada (PWYP-Canada), aim to help ensure a more robust consultation around the development of Canada’s second OGP Action Plan.

Guiding Principles
A number of principles should guide a robust consultation process. CLD and PWYP-Canada have identified the following key consultation principles:

The consultation process should be transparent. This implies, among other things, that the government should make it clear, from the start, how the process will work, including the various steps that will be taken and their respective timelines. It also means that the process around submissions should be open, so that submissions should be posted online (this should be clear from the outset, so that everyone understands that their submissions will be made public). It also implies that the government should make proposed content publicly available, as soon as possible, for purposes of public comment on that content. This should be an iterative process, with content being updated regularly.

The consultative process should be designed so as to be as inclusive as possible, taking into account time and resource constraints. This means that there should be different ways of reaching out to different stakeholders, so as to promote the widest possible engagement. Ideally, stakeholders should be involved from the design stage, so that the process is structured from the beginning in a manner that promotes widespread engagement.

The consultative process should be genuine in the sense that those engaging in it have a realistic expectation that their views will be taken into account. For this to be the case, the consultation must be real in the sense that the government does not approach it with a fixed, pre-set range of priorities. There must be a real possibility of the consultations impacting on the subject matter of the consultations. This also implies that sufficient context is made available to those participating in the consultation so that they may appropriately and realistically tailor their input to the specific policy process.

Concrete Proposals for Canada’s Second Action Plan

There should be various elements to the consultation process. It is appropriate, indeed useful, to have an initial brainstorming element, but the process should include an opportunity for interested stakeholders to provide feedback on concrete proposals (i.e. a draft Action Plan). Ideally, this should be an iterative process in the sense that stakeholders have the opportunity to provide comments on an initial draft and then again on a more final version which reflects their original input. As a practical suggestion, more focused discussions on key issues could be considered as part of the iterative process (i.e. the scope of consultation could be narrowed as the process moves forward, so as to focus on key issues).

There should be a variety of mechanisms for giving input. Virtual tools – such as online opportunities to provide substantive feedback and discussions via social media, including Twitter – are important, but they are not sufficient. At a very minimum, there should be an ongoing dialogue with the Advisory Panel, allowing for ongoing, i.e. repetitive, input into the Action Plan as it is developed. The substance of Advisory Panel discussions should be posted online, allowing for interested stakeholders to submit responses and feedback, providing one means of ongoing input.

There should also be face-to-face discussions, as required by the OGP. In the Canadian context, this implies discussions in a number of different geographic locations across the country. To save time and effort, consideration could be given to attaching these to other ongoing events/consultations.

The government should post proposals for the entire consultative process at an early stage, allowing interested stakeholders to comment on the proposed process.

Substantive content, for example in the form of revised versions of the Action Plan, should be posted online as frequently as possible, allowing for iterative feedback, at least online. All submissions from external stakeholders, however received, should be posted online. To enable this, it should be clear in advance that this will be the case. As noted above, at least summaries of Advisory Panel discussions should be made available online, allowing for others to be involved indirectly in this process.

The government should also provide an outline of its responses to external input, alongside revised versions of the Action Plan, so that stakeholders understand how their input has been taken into account. Where important input (e.g. as measured by the degree of repetition or extent of implications) has not been taken into account, reasons should be provided.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Centre for Law and Democracy
e-mail: toby@law-democracy.org
tel: +1 902 412-0872

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