A talk with IIEP researcher: Muriel Poisson on open government in education
We spoke to Muriel about the emerging area of open government and why her new research project, ‘Open government in education: Learning from experience’, is an exciting new frontier for educational planning.
What exactly is ‘open government’, and how can it affect the lives of students and others in the education sector?
Open government is an interesting concept, as it calls for renewed interactions between government and citizens. It’s usually defined with reference to three major principles: transparency, citizen engagement, and government responsiveness. For the education sector, in particular, open government covers specific areas like open policy, open budget, open contracting, and social audits.
To answer your second question, first we believe that participatory policy processes in education can greatly increase the relevance of policies and reforms – and, as a result, their successful implementation. Second, open government can, under the right conditions, also lead to more equitable education outcomes, by better engaging disadvantaged communities in decisions and processes. Giving citizens a voice in the education system can change power dynamics in the sector.
What are the main aims of the new research project? How does open government relate to your earlier work on open school data?
The new research aims to understand how to develop, in today’s technological world, more responsive, effective, and innovative approaches to educational planning, using citizen involvement. We want to document existing and promising initiatives, collect feedback especially from school actors – i.e. head teachers, teachers, parents, students, and community representatives, and learn lessons from their successes. Ultimately, our goal is to provide recommendations to education decision-makers and planners and help them make informed decisions about how to design and implement successful open government policies in education.
Open school data are part of open government, but by broadening our research, we want to go a step further. We will look not only at how information can be provided to citizens in the educational field but also at how, more globally, citizens can be consulted and involved at various steps of the planning cycle: policy design, implementation, evaluation, control, etc.
Can you tell us a bit about the specific case studies you are planning? Do you think it will be possible to see a real impact on corruption levels?
We have launched seven case studies focusing on interesting open government initiatives in Colombia, India, Madagascar, Peru, Portugal, Ukraine, and the USA. They illustrate the different forms that open government can take in education. In the case of Portugal or the USA for instance, we will pay attention to the introduction of open budgetary processes involving parents and students. In the case of India, we will document how social audits mechanisms have been institutionalized in the field of education, and with what success. We hope to use these case studies to compare implementation in urban versus rural areas and to draw lessons from each experience.
We also believe that, under certain conditions, open budgets, open contracting, and social audits can limit the risk of corruption and misuse of finances. The involvement of citizens in the educational budget cycle, for example, can help reduce corruption risks by breaking information asymmetry between public authorities and citizens. Moreover, by giving them a say in the process, it can also lead to fewer discretionary decisions, and prevent corrupt practices.
So what is next for open government? What will the global picture look like in 10 years?
The situation today differs widely from country to country, often depending on the level of corruption. In fact, this was a key lesson from the new study we have just published.
In the coming decade, such differences will certainly persist. Still, we believe that moving ahead with open government will promote a stronger culture of dialogue within education systems. This will be key for planners, encouraging the development of more democratic governance structures, better aligned with the needs of citizens. We are confident that IIEP’s recommendations will help build trust among educational stakeholders, bringing benefits to the whole sector, and not least to the students at the heart of the system.
Read and download IIEP's new book on open government in education for free here