EGOSE 2020 Conference: Implementing Open Government – Lessons from Germany

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I had the pleasure to participate at the 7th international conference of Electronic Governance and Open Society: Challenges in Eurasia (EGOSE), originally planned to take place in St. Petersburg, Russia, on 18th and 19th of November. The conference was organized by joint efforts of the E-Governance Center of ITMO University in St. Petersburg and the North-West Institute of Management, a branch of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA). Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the conference had to take place online.  Examining the German experience of initiating Open Government and sharing important lessons learnt for aspiring fellow states, I presented a research paper which I co-authored with Dr. Hasnain Bokhari, a lecturer at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy.

Implementing Open Government in Germany

Since 2016, Germany has been experiencing an increased political detachment from mainstream parties. This discontent is rooted in the public perception of national political parties being disconnected from them as the people, moreover, citizens consider their voices and needs being ignored. Germany wishes to encounter and lower this political detachment by the means of Open Government initiative. The concept refers to the opening of government and administration to its people and the economy through the provision of open government data, provided throughout municipal and federal level “open by default” since the adoption of the G8 Open Data Charter in 2013. The supply of Open Government Data strives to increase government transparency and accountability as well as enhance economic and civic innovation and citizen participation in public policy formation.

The aspect of Open Government, our paper presented at the EGOSE 2020 conference, examines the implementation of local initiatives for and with citizens, civil organisations, and local governments, aiming to provide people with the possibility to participate in local policymaking as well as propose their own ideas. Simultaneously these initiatives offer room for the government to connect, moreover interact with their citizens. Hence the concept of Open Government can only work if both sides make a corresponding effort: 1) The citizens through their motivation to act as public entrepreneurs and voluntary commitment to implement their ideas. 2) The local government by supporting these initiatives, showing itself to be cooperative and taking the efforts of its citizens seriously and actively offering them to participate in different affairs. Living democracy need not remain an illusion.

Respective implementation efforts are manifested by the execution of National Action Plans (NAP). While the first NAP was implemented between 2017 and 2019, the mandate of second NAP runs from 2019 to 2021. Accompanied by nationwide projects (Model Commune Open Government and Regional Open Government Laboratories respectively), those implementation efforts provide in-depth understanding about the manifold challenges faced by politics, administrations and practitioners. Proving the German implementation strategy of a grass-roots approach, especially the state of North Rhine-Westphalia demonstrates best practice projects.

Since data literacy, the ability to read and apply Open Data, is a major foundation of Open Government, the paper presented at the EGOSE illustrates the case of “Data Goes School”, a collaboration of four institutions, namely Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences, the municipal administration of the city of Moers, the high school “Gymnasium Adolfinum” in Moers and the Open Knowledge Lab Niederrhein, to build up personnel future key capacities and bring political topics closer to the next generation on behalf of results obtained through Open Data. Still, this project has a lighthouse character and reflects just one important set screw to be turned in order to get closer to the aim of closing the perceived gap between the government and its citizens. Therefore, the paper identified six action fields, each containing different lessons learned, to be considered in upcoming Open Government projects. The paper also discussed Open Data as a national policy topic of the highest priority.

Research Collaboration and Conference Experience

The paper was developed out of Dr. Bokhari’s graduate course “Design and Implementation of e-Government”, taught at the Brandt School during winter semester 2019/2020. In his knowledge-intensive and interactive course, we discussed topics, among others, on Open Data and state sovereignty as well as public sector transformation and foundations of digital governments. It fostered my interest in the idea of strengthening democracy by means of Open Government, hence I wrote my term paper about it. Dr. Bokhari shared his interest in this topic with me, prompting us to present the paper at the EGOSE 2020 conference. Hence, the process of developing the term paper into a professional conference paper started. The paper went through a blind peer review process, and on November 18th 2020, I presented the paper via online video link. Other topics discussed by international experts during the two-day conference caught my attention, in particular, included institutionalising new C2G communication forms, moreover communication channels in public policy development and implementation as well as the data-driven government in Russia. The opportunity to attend these presentations helped strengthen my interest in specific research topics.

I am most grateful to Dr. Bokhari. I had the chance to experience the process of co-authoring the paper and attend this international conference. In the context of the EGOSE 2020 conference, our paper titled “Implementing Open Government – Lessons from Germany” will be published by Springer publishing house within their Communications in Computer and Information Science (CCIS) Series.

Important lessons

Experiencing academic teamwork by co-authoring this research paper, I gained unique insights and learned multiple lessons.

  • Writing a paper with high aspirations is an iterative process of patience and reflection, always having to question your statements against various contexts.
  • In order to provide and merge high-quality knowledge, the literature review is of the greatest importance and worth its time.
  • Building up a line of argumentation should be strongly supported by citations, acting as an amplifier of the mediated message.
  • A respective case can greatly outline the chances and consequences of policy action, therefore underlining the goal conveyed through the paper.

I am deeply indebted to Dr. Bokhari and his commitment towards the collaboration on this exciting subject. Thanks to our co-authorship, it fostered my academic development and encouraged me to strive for further experiences of this kind. I am also very thankful to the Brandt School for supporting me to participate in the conference. The encouragement by the School demonstrates its appreciation for the efforts and achievements of the students.

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Charlotte has a Bachelor's degree in Economic Science from the University of Stuttgart-Hohenheim. Her recent internships she completed at the research institute CINEP in Colombia and at GIZ's Public-Private-Partnership department in Germany. Further work experience in development cooperation she gained with AIESEC in Indonesia.