Proactive Transparency Initiative in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Proactive Transparency initiative in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the first policy to address proactive disclosure of government information, co-created by the public institutions and civil society organisations. The result of of this collaboration was a policy document, 38 defined standard pieces of information, research conducted by civil society and improvement of government transparency.
In line with the need to improve the level of proactive transparency of public administration bodies in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the members of the inter-institutional working group for communications, established within the Programme for Strengthening of Public Institutions, implemented in Bosnia and Herzegovina by the German GIZ on behalf of the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany, in joint work with representatives of the civil societies, co-created the following documents: Proactive Transparency Policy and Standards of Proactive Transparency in Public Administration. The document is designed not only to encourage public disclosure of information of relevance to the work of institutions, but also to intensify the exchange of information with the citizens. The recommendations offered by the document are applicable to all institutions of public administration and public bodies. Therefore, its intermediary goal is for institutions to use their own example as a gateway to increasing the level of transparency and openness of institutions in BiH, sharing the gained experience and knowledge of proactive transparency in the field of communication through the structures for public administration reform and multipliers of public opinion.
Proactive transparency standards include a set of 38 types of information that should be available on public institutions' websites. These standards are defined in cooperation between representatives of institutions and civil society in order to reflect the capabilities and capacities of institutions as well as the needs of the civil society for information.
This is the first attempt to elaborate and then implement a systematically set, comprehensive framework for proactive transparency in BiH, which would address the problem of obsolescence and fragmentation of existing laws and policies in that area.
The four institutions of the Council of Ministers of BiH (the Agency for Statistics of BiH, the Agency for Development of Higher Education and Quality Assurance of BiH, the Directorate for European Integration and the Public Administration Reform Coordinator's Office), who have participated in the drafting of the Standards, have begun implementing the defined proactive transparency standards in September 2015, and Standards were presented to other institutions at the BiH level as an example of good practice in proactive transparency.
Conscious of the importance of the implementation of public administration reform, which, through the new Public Administration Reform Strategic Framework (2018-2022) in the areas of accountability, strategic planning and policy coordination, and public services, inter alia includes measures relating to the principles of proactive transparency and the fight against corruption and increasing the participation of citizens in public affairs, which is not possible without a satisfactory level of information, in the course of 2017, up to now, four institutions have continued to update the data on their websites, and to publish relevant information available to the public in their possession and relevant to Proactive Transparency Standards.
Proactive publication of information directly contributes to realization of the concept of good governance in BiH, restores public confidence in the work of public institutions, and provides citizens with information in order to achieve their participation in the work of public administration.
Following a series of trainings, conferences and other measures aimed at improving the awareness of how important proactive disclosure is for government and citizens alike, the Policy of Proactive Transparency and its 38 standards were adopted by the Council of Ministers in December 2018. All state-level institutions are now required to implement the standards and report on their progress to the Public Administration Reform Coordinator's Office.
The initiative if also included in the draft OGP Action Plan with measures aimed at further dissemination of good practices and increased transparency.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The uniqueness of this initiative was the co-creation process of developing the policy and standards of proactive transparency. Representatives of three major civil society organisations in Bosnia and Herzegovina active in the area of transparency and freedom of information (Transparency International BiH, Centre for Investigative Journalism, Centre for Social Research Analitika) worked closely together with the representatives of government bodies to define the standard pieces of information to be proactively disclosed by government. This is a rare example of high-level involvement and collaboration between civil society and government in Bosnia and Herzegovina and represents the spirit and principles of Open Government Partnership.
Collaborations & Partnerships
Collaboration between institutions within the inter-institutional working group as well as between the government and civil society organisations are one of the main characteristics of this initiative. Civil society representatives were able to address their needs and concerns when it comes to government information and the government representatives could present priorities as well as practical limitations.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Civil society organisations helped co-created and implement the initiative but are also some of main users of government information. Investigative journalists looking for government financial or procurement information are able to save time by not requesting this information under FOI Law. Academia, researchers are all users of proactively disclosed government information. Civil servants and officials from other institutions are an important user group.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
- The co-created Policy and Standards of Proactive Transparency were adopted by the Council of Ministers of BiH at their session on 3 December 2018
- Institutions involved in the initiative have shown considerable progress since first research conducted by civil society (e.g. Public Administration Reform Coordinator's Office fulfills now all 38 standards and is leading institution in BiH)
- In co-cordination with civil society the initiative was disseminated to other administrative levels, e.g. with Transparency International BiH
Challenges and Failures
Main challenge for the implementation of the initiative was lack of legal provisions regarding proactive disclosure. Freedom of Information Act of BiH does not have provisions on proactive transparency. However, various other laws (e.g. Public Procurement Law) stipulate proactive disclosure obligations. This represented a significant obstacle when it comes to early adoption of the initiative by the civil servants.
In the administrative culture in BiH there is evident insufficient readiness for proactive publication of information. It stems from the view that the promotion of the rights of the public to know increases administratively the burden of human, financial and technical resources, or falls under the domain of the protection of personal data and, consequently, provokes the resistance of the accountable officers.
Conditions for Success
In the early stages of the Proactive Transparency Initiative in BiH building trust between civil society and government representatives was crucial for not only success, but any progress. Technical assistance and expertise provided by German GIZ in this case ensured that a multi-stakeholder dialogue was constructive, based on mutual respect and goal-oriented.
Important principle in development and implementation of proactive transparency initiative was pragmatism. Lack of solid legal basis was not to be seen as stopping the efforts of those institutions willing and capable to make a step forward in terms of their transparency.
Another important aspect relevant for the success was inter-institutional effort, making it easier to advocate towards other institutions. Having such champions of proactive transparency within the government was of crucial importance for the initiative.
Management buy-in was secured through meetings and presentations of the initiative.
Even before the policy document was adopted by the Council of Ministers, thus making the implementation of standards a requirement for institutions, there was concrete effort to replicate the success of four involved institutions with other government bodies. Training on Open Government was organised in December 2016 with over 40 civil servants taking place; proactive transparency was one of main elements of the training. Talks with management of other institutions were held in 2018 and the institutions nominated their representatives to take part in further trainings. A survey tool for measuring the rate of implementation of standards was developed by the inter-institutional working group and piloted on 12 institutions in December 2018/January 2019. Through a series of trainings organised by Transparency International Bih the initiative was furthermore disseminated to the institutions at the sub-national level as well.
One of the main lessons learned was that bottom-up approaches like this initiative require sufficient time in order to address the challenges of administrative culture, inadequate trust between government and civil society, lack of human resources within the bureaucracy. These issues need to be dealt with in a systematic and continuous manner in order for the initiative to take off. This is one of the reasons why the inter-institutional working group drafted a Frequently Asked Questions document about proactive transparency,
Furthermore, flexibility and continuous adaptation are required to address questions raised regarding the initiative. This on-going improvement of the policy and especially standards of proactive transparency has led to re-thinking some of the standards, making them more explicit and reflective of the actual practices within government bodies.
Further dissemination of the proactive transparency initiative in BiH towards other administrative levels would be necessary for the initiative to have a transformative effect on the citizens.