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What happens when you cross a robot, MCC and a Ferris wheel?

August 15, 2018

By Jake Grover, Senior Advisor, Office of the CEO and Bethany Aquilina Brez, Senior Policy Advisor, Department of Policy and Evaluation

From left: Sonia Shahrigian, MCC Georgia Deputy Resident Country Director; Bethany Aquilina Brez, MCC Senior Policy Advisor; Jake Grover, MCC Senior Policy Advisor; Sarah Pfund, Overseas Intern; and Magda Magradze, MCA-Georgia CEO, at the Open Government Partnership Summit in Tbilisi, Georgia.

What do a humanoid robot, MCC, and a Ferris wheel have in common? Surprisingly, they were all part of the recent Open Government Partnership (OGP) Global Summit in Tbilisi, Georgia. Let us explain.

From July 17-19, about 2,000 representatives from nearly 100 countries attended this year's OGP Summit, hosted by the Government of Georgia. From heads of state to civil society representatives and everyone in between, it was a truly impressive cross-section of actors in the open government space. Kudos to the summit organizers for ensuring diverse representation across gender, geography and organizational type for every panel, session and speaking opportunity. MCC led a session at the Summit that certainly benefited from having colleagues from our Georgia Compact involved, including representatives from the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA)-Georgia and Georgian civil society—more on the MCC session shortly.

Transparency is a core value of MCC, and has been a part of our DNA since our agency’s inception. The OGP Summit is a great chance for us to participate in advancing the cause of global open government. A diverse range of participants shared best practices on how to make government more accountable, transparent and citizen-responsive. A major theme of the summit was the recurring question of “open government for what?” A clear answer emerged during the course of the summit that open government principles need to deliver for citizens. During the opening plenary, Sanjay Pradhan, CEO of the OGP, clearly articulated this point, stating that the three OGP priorities are to improve service delivery, enable citizen feedback and make governments more responsive. Georgian Prime Minister, the Honorable Mamuka Bakhtadze, also emphasized this point—open government is not just about openness, it's about delivering better services for citizens.

Beyond high-level panels and speeches, there were over 100 sessions and side events over two days at the equally beautiful and quirky Mtatsminda Park overlooking Tbilisi. Many of the sessions were held at the “Underwheel” complex—aptly named given its position directly under the park’s massive Ferris wheel. Like the summit’s layout, the session covered a ton of ground, from the broad and ambitious “Engaging Citizens in Law-Making” to the self-reflective “How Can Global Anti-Corruption Summits Support the Implementation of Reforms?” to the highly specialized “Using Open Contracting and Open Data for Grassroots Health Advocacy.” A highlight for many attendees, however—and certainly the best attended session—was entitled “Public Service Innovations – Beyond Participation and Engagement towards Co-Design and Co-Delivery,” featuring Sophia the Humanoid Robot.

Ferris wheel in Mtatsminda Park

Ultimately, the summit served as an opportunity for experts and practitioners across sectors and regions to exchange ideas, discuss challenges and learn from each other. To this end, MCC hosted a knowledge café session—a fancy term for a set of facilitated break-out discussions—entitled “The Power of Incentives and Accountability Mechanisms: Best Practices in Development Cooperation.” Following opening remarks by MCA-Georgia CEO Magda Magradze and MCC Georgia Deputy Resident Country Director Sonia Shahrigian, attendees self-selected into thematic discussions, including multi-stakeholder partnerships, country selectivity and resource allocation, innovative and demand-driven approaches—facilitated by Nino Evgenidze, Executive Director of Georgia’s Economic Policy Research Center—as well as policy and institutional reform. Participants from civil society, government, international organizations, academic institutions, and the private sector joined MCC staff to discuss the importance of political will and commitment to accountability, the alignment of incentives for government reform, best practices for stakeholder engagement, and the importance for inclusivity for ensuring the sustainability of development investments.

View of Tbilisi from Mtatsminda Park

While we couldn’t compete with a humanoid robot or outshine the stunning views of Tbilisi, MCC was excited to share our experience related to open government and continue to play a supporting role as our country partners and civil society took the lead. At MCC, transparency and accountability are central tenets of our work, and the OGP Summit was a great reminder that those principles are ultimately tied to producing more responsive government that delivers for our citizens. What started as an initiative co-founded by the United States with grand ambitions has now grown up and taken on a life of its own, and this summit provided the clearest articulation yet that the future of the OGP is bright—that is, if we can keep up with the humanoid robots.