Open government and digital transformation for the New Urban Agenda - ESCWA
18 Nov 2021

UTC+2 Beirut time

Expert Group Meeting

Open government and digital transformation for the New Urban Agenda

  • Cairo and online

Systems of governance in urban areas are central to ensuring the sustainable growth of cities. Both the New Urban Agenda and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 promote systems of governance that are people-centred, inclusive and participatory. A recent policy paper on urban governance, capacity and institutional development, building from these documents, suggests that urban governance should be democratic and inclusive, long-term and integrated, multi-scale and multi-level, territorial, proficient and in-keeping with digital development.

Open government, with its principles of transparency, participation and collaboration, supports this view on urban governance as well as the paradigm shift envisioned in the New Urban Agenda and SDG 16. This approach to government focuses on building better and collaborative working relationships between citizens, their communities and the government to ensure better governance and is applicable to areas with low information and communications technology penetration.

The meeting aims to adopt a paper on open government best practices and recommendations for Arab cities in order to support the formulation of a joint regional project on open governments and digital transformation for the New Urban Agenda in the Arab region and inform the World Urban Forum 11 dialogues on open governance and people-centered smart cities.

Outcome document

  1. Participants welcomed the initiation of a new regional project on digital transformation and open government for the New Urban Agenda as it will support the governments' efforts for achieving the NUA and SDGs. They also showed interest in participating in such a project. 
  2. Digital Transformation and digital technologies could help overcome physical barriers and uphold the promise of leaving no one behind, including the elderly, vulnerable groups, and people with disabilities.
  3. The persisting digital divide in the Arab region stands in the way of achieving a digital society – making the adoption of smart cities and Digital Transformation more difficult.  
  4. Becoming smart is not necessarily going digital, it is about finding the best solutions to address local needs, and requiring close collaboration between national and local government, especially that some innovation takes place at local level.
  5. Achieving a better implementation of the New Urban Agenda should focus on socioeconomic resilience and sustainability, with direct engagement of local authorities in finding solutions to local public issues.
  6. Applying the concept of subsidiarity is essential in open governance as it enables local decision making and promotes effective local development that better meets people needs.
  7. The bottom-up governance approach is essential for assessing and meeting local needs, as it allows planning the activities that directly respond to public needs.  
  8. Through regional analysis, needs assessments can complement the bottom-up process and contribute to bridging the gaps between rural and urban areas and between countries.
  9. Open data is positioned to increase transparency, offer new revenue resource for government, improve existing products and services, contribute to job-creation, offer new revenue resource for governments, and keep citizens well-informed.
  10. For many countries and cities, facing the pandemic was an opportunity to advance open government and open data initiatives, but also brough new risks and challenges concerning the privacy of citizens, requiring personal data protection.
  11. Success stories in Arab cities dealing with open government were evident when partnerships between urban/local and central government existed including linking central and local programmes.
  12. The participation of all stakeholder at local and national levels increases government accountability, achieves transparency, broadens citizens’ empowerment, reduces costs, and leads to innovation in the delivery of government services. Hence, the participation and engagement of local authorities and stakeholders in local development activities is crucial for a successful implementation of the new proposed regional initiative.

This session launched a jointly developed ESCWA-OECD report on "Economic and social impact of open government: Policy Recommendations for the Arab region". It identified the socio-economic impact of open government, supported by several success stories from OECD countries and good examples from Arab countries. The session ended by summarized the main findings of the report and highlighted its main observations and policy recommendations.

The session highlighted the relevance of open government to Urban Development Agenda and the realization of Goal 11 in the Arab region. It also clarified the concepts of e-government versus open government and exposed the linkages with smart and digital solutions.

The concept of open government was explored, together with the lessons learned and key challenges facing its application at the local level.  Effective governance that ensures collective decision making in innovative governance systems was also emphasized as the means to leave no one behind.   Participants also discussed the role of technologies and priority areas for enhancing openness, participation, transparency, accountability, collaboration and engagement in local governance, towards urban development.   Examples of good governance and best practices from selected cities were showcased, including examples from Morocco, Poland, Spain, and Tunisia. 

The session highlighted the role of smart and digital technology and innovation at the local level for the realization of the New Urban Agenda (NUA) and Goal 11 of the SDGs. It also emphasized how to exploit technology for foster urban resilience with focus on social and economic aspects. The priority areas of digital transformation for the implementation of the NUA was identified during this session. 

Participants explored prospects for collaboration on a new regional initiative, and discussed its scope, objectives, target countries/cities, and activities and engagements for each.  The envisaged activities should respond to local needs and actively involve the participating cities from the start in identifying the potential partners and joint financing resources.   An interactive tool was used in this session to solicit feedback of participants on pre-set questions that could be relied on in the development and fine-tuning of the new initiative, in terms of activities, timeline, clients, partners, and funding sources.

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