Turning commitments into actions: How CoST and OGP principles work together

CoST is looking forward to sharing its experience this week at the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Summit 2018 in Tbilisi, Georgia. To mark this important event, we have published guidance on how our approach to infrastructure transparency and accountability aligns with OGP principles and we have launched our new membership opportunity which gives flexibility in applying the core features of CoST. We have also published a case study on infrastructure governance in Scotland, providing major opportunities for lesson learning between different contexts. In this blog we explain why we have introduced these changes and how they can benefit OGP members and beyond.

This week over 2000 participants from 70 countries gather to share their experience on implementing open government and look to set new ambitious commitments that promote transparency, accountability, technology and citizen participation. Our new guidance demonstrates how OGP and CoST members have implemented the OGP principles using core CoST features of disclosure, assurance, multi-stakeholder working and social accountability as well as how model commitments relating to CoST could be included in OGP action plans.

This includes establishing a legal mandate in Honduras, Panama and Malawi that provides the backbone to increasing transparency at each stage of the life an infrastructure project and the sharing of technology that enables government to disclose data in the CoST Infrastructure Data Standard (CoST IDS) format on user-friendly online platforms.

It includes promoting accountability through the CoST assurance process that provides an independent third-party review of the disclosed data which helps to put key issues into the public domain. In Ukraine for example, its assurance process highlighted key issues such as low competition, poor quality and pricing discrepancies that the public were able to use to hold decision-makers to account.

It includes citizen participation as can be seen in Honduras and Malawi. Last year CoST Honduras trained 250 Citizen Transparency Commissions to use the disclosed data to monitor infrastructure projects and CoST Malawi developed an SMS message system that allows citizens to share their concerns about public infrastructure so they can be addressed swiftly. Such has been the success of these two programmes that they were recognised with an OGP award in 2016.

As we will share our lessons this week, we are delighted to open our new membership options to participants in Tbilisi and others around the world. Our guidance published today on joining CoST outlines how those serious about improving infrastructure transparency and accountability can join the initiative as an ‘affiliate member’ – a status geared towards those who see CoST as a source of tools and an approach that can support the reform effort. This is different to our traditional ‘member’ option – which is for those who see CoST as central to the reform effort.

Rolling out this new membership category is an important step and one which was outlined in our CoST Business Plan 2017 – 2020 as a means to increase our global footprint. But this step is even more significant – our two options are now more targeted to the different types of administration we are seeing taking a front-seat in the delivery of infrastructure projects – both national and sub-national parts of government as well as megaprojects. Thus, those who could adopt CoST could be a city authority, a sub-national government such as Scotland or the governing body of a megaproject such as the UK’s major Crossrail project or the Paris 2024 Olympics.

In research we have published today on Scotland – a sub-national OGP Member – we find that whilst it has made major strides in the last 15 years to improve transparency and accountability in public infrastructure there is still room for improvement. The Scottish Government is investing over £20 billion ($US 26.5 billion) over a five-year period in roads, rail, colleges and hospitals. Its level of disclosure is high for projects valued at over £20 million and when these are compared against the CoST IDS which requires 40 data points disclosed at key stages of the infrastructure project cycle, our research revealed that 95% of the CoST IDS was published proactively. You may then ask – if Scotland is so transparent how could they benefit from CoST? One example, that of the £775 million Edinburgh Tram, seems to sum this up – the project was delivered late, doubled in price and if you were to look for project data it will take you a considerable amount of time and patience to find it. Among our recommendations, we highlight that if Scotland were to publish data based on the CoST IDS on a single online information platform it would make it far easier to access information.

In other parts of the world sub-national governments do not necessarily have the capacity to manage the increasing amounts for which they are responsible which makes them more prone to potential corruption and mismanagement. Disclosing information to the public seems like an unimportant task that just creates more work. In our recent blog, CoST Uganda shares the story of Wakiso District Council who were in this position but learnt how disclosing information and engaging the public helps to build trust with its constituents and identify solutions to on-going problems.

In addition, CoST Guatemala has worked with the National Association of Municipalities to train over 1,300 officials from 237 municipalities on the importance of disclosing data to the public and how this can be achieved. CoST Guatemala identified that municipalities lacked awareness and the capacity to implement the legal requirement to disclose data in accordance with the CoST IDS. The training has led to a significant increase in the amount of data disclosed on the government’s e-procurement portal – Guatecompras.

CoST is tried and tested and has already been proven effective in diverse political and economic environments and our results speak for themselves: from disclosing data on over 6,000 infrastructure projects in 2017 (a two-fold increase on 2016); to cancelling a contract for re-building Guatemala’s Belize Bridge which saved the miss-appropriation of $(US) 5 million; to repairing a defective bridge in Ukraine; to stopping environmental pollution on a construction site in Honduras; to cancelling road contracts in Malawi that stopped the on-going wastage of public money.

There is nothing therefore, to stop the CoST approach being just as effective in the new set of contexts targeted through our new membership options. And there is nothing to stop the results we have seen in CoST member countries being replicated in OGP member countries through CoST commitments in OGP action plans.

Useful links and information

CoST will be sharing its lessons in a panel at the OGP Summit focussed on advancing infrastructure transparency in transport and where participants we will hear from the Panama Vice Minister of the Presidency, Salvador Sanchez, journalist Claire Rewcastle Brown, CoST Ukraine Country Manager, Natalie Forsyuk and Industry Representative on the CoST Board, Frank Kehlenbach. To join us click here.

Click to read our Guidance Note on CoST and OGP
Click to read our Guidance Note on Joining CoST
Click to read our Scotland case study