Interview

Faces of Open Government: Muriel Poisson

ⒸIIEP-UNESCO

This interview was first published by Open Government Partnership in the Faces of Open Government.

Meet Muriel Poisson from UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP). Muriel has been at the forefront of research and initiatives that explore the vital links between open government practices and transparency within the educational system and on this International Day of Education, she shares her insights into the intersection between education and open government. 

Can you tell us more about the International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) and your role in it? 

Over the past 60 years, the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP-UNESCO) has supported nearly every country in the world with capacity development to better plan and manage their education systems. 

Through knowledge production, training, and technical cooperation, IIEP contributes to the design and implementation of education sector plans, which reflect country needs, and international education goals. 

We know that the only way to reach these goals is by eradicating corruption in the education sector. That is why over the past two decades, I have helped establish and lead IIEP’s work on ethics and corruption in education, training some 3,000 education professionals in anti-corruption measures and producing a range of knowledge products. I have also provided technical support to UNESCO Member States to help them for instance implement a public expenditure tracking survey or develop a teacher code of conduct.

As Task Manager of IIEP’s program on Ethics and Corruption in Education, can you explain to us how open government relates to education and what are the key benefits open government can bring to the educational sector and communities?

In the context of education, open government entails making government data, processes, and decisions accessible to the public, so that citizens’ right to education can be protected and scrutinized. Just like other public sectors, this enhances transparency and accountability, and can help strengthen public trust in essential services. Making information available to the public and involving more people can make policies and reforms more relevant. This also ensures that resources reach the right people. 

We have seen many inspiring examples of this – like Madagascar’s  open policy, Colombia’s open contracting for school meals, or India’s widespread social audits. Open government can take many forms, but the goal remains the same: to make the vulnerable visible, to empower the least heard, and to encourage a shift in power dynamics within the sector. 

How can platforms like OGP help to promote and improve transparency and accountability in education?

As a partnership involving government and civil society organizations, OGP contributes to developing a conducive environment for more transparency and accountability in the education sector. More specifically, according to an internal review of OGP action plans from 60 countries over the period 2011-2019 that we carried out at IIEP, such plans contained 295 education-related commitments. The main themes covered ranged from anti-corruption education, or citizenship education, to open educational resources, e-government, and education service delivery. 

But it would be interesting to see how other open government-related topics relevant for the education sector – such as open school data, open budgeting, open contracting, social auditing, and much more – can also be considered as part of OGP actions plans; either national or local. I also see country OGP points of contact as key players to make the link with education authorities and other stakeholders on the ground and help promote open government on the education agenda.

In your experience, what role does open school data play in promoting open government in education, and how can it benefit both students and the public?

Open school data is an extremely powerful tool to operationalize open government. For a long time, school-level data – from budgets, numbers of teachers, and availability of facilities, to learning outcomes – were only in the hands of public administrations. But this is no longer the case: over 50 countries make their data available to the public including highly populated countries such as Bangladesh, India, and Indonesia.

When this kind of data moves into the public arena and there is a proper feedback loop in place, then evidence shows that it can positively contribute to substantial changes in power dynamics within the education sector.

What challenges have you encountered when implementing open government practices in the education sector, and how were they overcome?

One of the most prevalent challenges is that giving information to citizens about their education system is not enough. Our research at IIEP has shown that citizens need to be accompanied and supported throughout the process to make the data work for them. But information and participation alone aren’t sufficient. It’s crucial to promote a plurality of voices and ensure that public authorities act on citizen feedback.

It is also important to involve students in open government processes, yet this is often overlooked. Students have a lot to say and are the ultimate beneficiaries of educational services, so their participation should be guaranteed. There are good examples of participatory budget initiatives involving students in Portugal for instance, or of a youth auditors’ programme in Peru, to learn from in this perspective.

What advice would you give to OGP members who would like to make education more transparent and corruption-free? 

On the administrative side, my advice would be to consider ways to shift towards a citizen-centred approach, learning from the experience gained by civil society in the area. I would encourage both governments and civil society organizations to explore new opportunities opened by digital tools to foster greater participation and accountability. 

For all those engaged or willing to engage in this direction, my advice would be to understand the benefits and risks of digital tools –  including misinterpretation of data, or security issues –  so that the transition towards a more open system has the best chance of fostering positive results. 

Lastly, as there are so many initiatives in action worldwide to scale up or replicate, I can’t emphasize enough the need to learn from peers and promote knowledge sharing at regional and international level.