How France worked with civil society to create its Action Plan

To craft its first National Action Plan for open government, the French government used online and offline public consultations to collect ideas from citizens and organisations. Some of those ideas were transformed into real commitments. Political validation of the Action Plan was a difficult step.

Policy Context

Open Government Partnership

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is an international organisation formally created in 2011 by eight founding governments: Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa, the United States and the United Kingdom. The goal stated on the OGP website is “to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance, in the spirit of multi-stakeholder collaboration”. The OGP is supervised by a Steering Committee that includes representatives of both governments and civil society.

Governments that want to participate in the OGP must sign a letter of Intent and endorse the organisation’s Open Government Declaration. In collaboration with civil society, they must then develop a National Action Plan with a list of commitments. The Action Plan runs for two years and is overseen by the OGP’s Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM), which is composed of experts and members of civil society. The IRM members are tasked with assessing governments’ progress in implementing their commitments.

France involved in openness and transparency

In 2013, the French government formalised its roadmap in terms of open data and openness, and announced its intention to join the OGP. This intention was confirmed by CIMAP (the Comité Interministériel pour la Modernization de l’Action Publique) in the same year.

Since 2011, France has also had an open data strategy. The government has created a dedicated agency called Etalab, which is in charge of deploying the national portal, data.gouv.fr. France was also the first country to appoint a Chief Data Officer (CDO). Basically, all affairs relating to open data are now part of DINSIC, the state IT department (previously DISIC). Henri Verdier, France’s first CDO, is now at the head of DINSIC.

France officially joined the OGP in April 2014 and was elected a member of the Steering Committee in August 2014. In April 2015, France was elected to chair the OGP from October 2016 to October 2017. Since October 2015, the country has co-chaired the OGP as vice president. The French Presidency supports the country’s open government strategy.

France published its first National Action Plan, “Transparent and Collaborative Public Action” in July 2015. This plan lists 26 commitments, classified into five main themes:

  • Be accountable
    • Allow everyone to access, understand and reuse the financial data and decisions of local authorities
    • Increase transparency of public procurement
    • Increase transparency of Official Development Assistance
    • Provide open access to public policy evaluations and conclusions
    • Increase the involvement of citizens in the work of the Court of Auditors (Cour des Comptes)
    • Facilitate access to data on the transparency obligations of public officials
    • Identify the beneficial owners of legal entities registered in France, to help in the fight against money-laundering
    • Increase the transparency of payments and revenues from extractive industries
    • Increase the transparency of international trade negotiations.
  • Consult on, and cooperate in, public action
    • Give citizens new ways to participate in public life by letting them help to identify problems needing to be solved
    • Work with civil society to co-produce key registers of data essential to society and the economy
    • Pursue the opening of legal resources and collaboration with civil society in the development of the law
    • Capitalise on consultations and revitalise methods of civic expression
    • Strengthen mediation and the capacity of citizens to act within the justice system
  • Share digital resources that are useful to the economy and social innovation
    • Strengthen the policy of openness and data movement
    • Promote the opening of model calculations and simulations created by the state
    • Transform the technological resources of the state into an open platform
    • Better interact with users and improve public services through digital administration
  • Open up the administration
    • Promote the engagement of civil society by supporting schools
    • Diversify recruitment in public institutions
    • Disseminate the culture of open data and digital access
    • Disseminate innovation and deepen research on open government
    • Empower and protect public agents so as to prevent conflicts of interest
  • Use open government to protect the climate and aid sustainable development
    • Involving civil society in the COP21 conference and promote transparency in the agenda and negotiations
    • Provide data and models related to climate and sustainable development
    • Engage new collaborations with society to develop innovative solutions and meet the challenges of climate change and sustainable development.

According to Etalab, a first self-evaluation will be conducted in July 2016. The results of this evaluation will provide some input for the Second Action Plan to follow. In July 2017, the independent experts appointed by the partnership will publish an update on the development and implementation of the Action Plan.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

Get inspired by other governments and NAP

“The first major project was to understand how other countries had prepared their own Action Plans,” explained Claire-Marie Foulquier-Gazagnes, Head of Development & Policy at Etalab.

“We started with a benchmark of the Action Plans that other countries had made, so that we could understand the methodology and the reporting arrangements,” Foulquier-Gazagnes said. “With the guidance of the OGP, Etalab studied around a dozen national plans altogether.”

Etalab also asked the IRM members which countries would be the best inspiration for France. Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Tanzania, the United Kingdom and the United States all set examples for Etalab: “A real international dimension,” as Foulquier-Gazagnes put it. Scandinavian Action Plans also inspired Etalab because these countries had managed to integrate their own national values into their NAPs, she added. The IRM members continued to provide advice, and Etalab scheduled an update with them every quarter.

Three members of Etalab worked with the OGP’s Support Unit. Two consultants also provided valuable support: “They helped us in very specific research tasks on open government – such as how to handle whistleblowers – that were raised in the online consultation,” Foulquier-Gazagnes said. A trainee was also hired for the project.

Create connections with civil society

The second step was to develop a method of “co-constructing” a French Action Plan, both online and offline, with the involvement of civil society. For this, Etalab decided to rely on:

  • The online consultation launched by the National Digital Council (Conseil National du Numérique – CNNUM) to define digital law in France. “We preferred to use something that already existed and a platform where there were already good contributors,” Foulquier-Gazagnes explained. “We would have been behind schedule if we had had to build our own platform. It was a very pragmatic choice.” For this project, a theme dealing with open government was created on the portal.
  • Studying the other National Plans also identified recurring themes, such as the role of extractive industries and official development assistance. At regular intervals Etalab brought together and summarised the many contributions published on the portal. This allowed the project to stay in touch with the digital community in France, and by extension to raise public awareness of subjects related to open government.
  • To reach key associations outside the French digital ecosystem – which had already been targeted by the online consultation – Etalab held physical meetings with organisations including the Red Cross, Emmaus, Transparency International, and the Nicolas Hulot Foundation, an environmental group. In addition, Etalab held consultation meetings with some 200 specialized associations. “Each organisation brought his its own knowledge and made proposals”, she commented. The meetings helped to explain the logic of government open to smaller associations. Etalab also set up partnerships with universities to work on specific topics. The meetings helped to explain the logic of government open to smaller associations.
  • “To work with local authorities, we relied on the Open Data ​France association, which already brings together leading open data policies in local public authorities,” Foulquier-Gazagnes said. Open Data France highlights the cities and towns that are most advanced in terms of open data. “Open data had been a gateway to address the issue of open government, she added.

Lessons learnt

Share the objectives and the results

Etalab set up regular progress reports to share the topics highlighted in the first draft. These meetings were often broadcast via online conferences, Foulquier-Gazagnes said.

Etalab also served as a mediator between civil society and representatives of the government. “It was often difficult to get civil society and government working together on topics,” Foulquier-Gazagnes explained. “Etalab therefore went back and forth between the two. In this way, requests from civil society were presented to government representatives, who were asked to evaluate their potential levels of engagement.”

“On some topics, such as official development assistance, several administrations were involved. We were able to establish good momentum between the different administrations, because none of them wanted to block the process. We sometimes had even more ambitious commitments that were created jointly by several administrations,” said Foulquier-Gazagnes.

 

Political approval: a difficult step

The last phase was about political validation – a step that Claire-Marie Foulquier-Gazagnes qualified as being difficult. In the end, she said, “approval has been possible thanks to the political support of the President of the Republic, who was involved in this area.”

But, she said, “this plan is built on the proposals and engagement of civil society, and also on what the government could do or wanted to do. It is a mix of both. We had to make that reconciliation, which was a very important job. Some commitments are not as ambitious as in their first draft,” she concluded.

Scope: National

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General case study
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