Open Government Approaches to Tackling COVID-19

Sandy Arce and Joe Foti 12th May 2020


Shortly after the WHO declared a global pandemic, the OGP Support Unit announced a COVID-19 crowdsourcing exercise. We asked for examples from the open government community to tackle the pandemic using open government approaches including citizen participation, transparency and accountability. As of May 12 2020, we have received over 350 submissions from our community of 78 governments and thousands of civil society organizations. While the spread of COVID-19 has closed much of the world, we wanted to create an open space to share examples where open government approaches are being implemented.

Below is a snapshot of the first 240 crowdsourced submissions received up to May 1st.


Most, but not all initiatives came from governments


While most of the initiatives submitted came from governments, a significant portion of the responses came from civil society organizations and the private sector. Within the submissions, there are 76 unique localities represented from a total of 60 countries. Of those, 45 are OGP member countries.


The emphasis is on immediate response

Through this crowdsourcing exercise, we saw a wide array of approaches aimed at tackling this pandemic. Mainly, they can be categorized in three stages or components of response and recovery:

  • Open Response: curbing contagion, scaling medical treatments and care, providing safety nets to the vulnerable
  • Open Recovery: advancing economic stimulus and recovery, strengthening health systems, enhancing transparency and accountability of aid flows
  • Open Reform over the long-term: reforming institutions and re-empowering citizens by rolling back state surveillance and restoring civic freedoms and independent oversight


So far, nearly all of the examples (96%) shared are concentrated on the initial open response stage, with less emphasis in long-term planning and accountability.  Nonetheless, there is a promising subset of approaches that have been shared, some of which involve a partnership of civil society organizations and private sector actors who are coming together in an effort to curb contagion.  After this first wave of initiatives that address more immediate needs of open response and recovery, we hope to see that governments will begin to implement approaches that address long-term reforms.

Most activities are around proactive release of information, followed closely by civic tech

Open government values at a time like this can come under extreme pressure, but we know that the principles of transparency, participation, and accountability can also make a meaningful change in the response to COVID-19. The vast majority of the initiatives submitted were a result of a proactive effort in transparency and access to information, such as websites with important health and safety information. There is also a noteworthy effort from civil society in creating spaces for coordination and collaboration.  Below is a breakdown of the initiatives as they relate to open government values:

Value Count Percent Examples
Access to Information Proactive 100 80% Websites giving information
Reactive 0 0% Right to information guidance, whistleblower protection
Civic Participation Invited 13 10% Governments creating space for civil society to give input
Civil Society Created Space 20 16% Creating space for civil society to coordinate and collaborate
Protection 0 0% Taking actions to protect space for civil society
Accountability Oversight 4 3% Government to government oversight
Access to Justice 1 1% Ensuring that members of the public have access to legal resources to uphold rights and law
External 0 0% Empowering civil society to hold decision-makers to account


Web tools emphasize getting people immediate relief

In the examples within access to information, the majority of government agency websites and civil society spaces provide the public with general guidance and resources related to health and safety. Some sites include local epidemiological data as well as response hotlines for citizens to reach out for additional assistance. Below is a list of functions of websites within proactive access to information:

Within access to information Of 172 submissions
Response hotlines 143
Guidance / resources 67
Open data (machine-readable, downloadable) 41
Epidemiological data 39
Planning / policies / strategy 22
Budget / Procurement / Expenditures 9


What’s next

We know that the open government community is looking for ways to help and to share what has worked for them. One important way of doing that is by exchanging ideas on how to meaningfully contribute to better outcomes in the COVID-19 response. We received an overwhelming response and have started to use some of these examples in the recently launched Guide to Open Government and the Coronavirus. This new guide not only draws from the crowdsourced examples, but it amplifies the work of OGP’s wide range of thematic partners, many of whom have directly contributed their expertise to the guide.

We will continue to gather examples so that the OGP community can use them and learn from them. To that end, we need your ideas and innovations in some of the areas that we know are important, but that we don’t have as many answers to yet:

  • Response:What are you doing to safeguard your systems to ensure that people are getting what they need and that accurate, timely information is getting to the public. Specifically, are governments protecting whistleblowers or using the right to information in new or interesting ways?
  • Recovery:How are governments using open government approaches to provide social safety nets and to help the economy be more resilient? How can these approaches assure that money reaches those who need it and that it has its intended effect?
  • Reform:As true as it is that the current pandemic will not last forever, it will also not be the last shock that rebounds through society. How do we ensure that scientific, economic, and other decisions are open and accountable to the public in a way that helps individuals, communities, and societies less vulnerable and more resilient?

Thank you to all those who continue to share these approaches.  Feel free to reach out to if you have any questions.

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