Despite boasting world-class internet speed and an exceptional e-government infrastructure, South Korea is still catching up in regards to citizen participation. South Korean government officials, well known for an authoritarian culture, might not consider citizen participation a top priority nor do they know how to co-create policies with multi-stakeholders. Because of this, we here at OpenNet Korea, and other CSOs across South Korea, are starting from scratch in how we increase civic engagement.
- Use legal framework as a leverage. Last year, during the Open Government Partnership’s assessment process, I realized that a non-binding international agreement can be used to leverage civic engagement in the policy making process. S. Korea is one of the founding members of OGP, launched in 2011 on the sidelines of a UN General Assembly meeting. However, 6 years later, we still struggle with very low civic engagement. OpenNet Korea and other CSOs interested in open government seized the opportunity to learn from OGP. In joining OGP we are required to produce and implement a National Action Plan, an agreement between government and civil society to advance transparency, on a biannual basis. Through frequent meetings and intentional collaboration we ensured CSOs were a part of this process, resulting in the South Korean government reflecting our suggestions in the language of its latest NAP. Utilizing the existing legal frame as leverage for enhancing civic engagement enabled us to push the agenda forward.
- Let CSOs play a steering role. In an authoritarian government culture, most civil servants are not familiar with co-steering. Most officials do not know how to engage citizen feedback as a way to close the loop in the policy making process. Moreover, they doubt the democratic legitimacy of participating CSOs and citizens. In 2016, OpenNet Korea played an intermediary and steering role for relevant CSOs and governments in changing the policy orientation for enhancing civic engagement. OpenNet proactively organized a forum where multi-stakeholders could meet each other to have an initial consultation. With other CSOs, OpenNet Korea is now trying to reach a broad range of stakeholders to participate in the forum and to make the forum more deliberative one.
- Make a series of incremental changes. Everyone dreams of dramatic, impactful change. But in the early stages, changes might be quite small or even nominal. Serial incremental changes are the key to success. CSOs in S. Korea suggested that the government formally include relevance law or ordinance in the multi-stakeholder engagement process. It is a quantum jump. So the government, together with CSOs, agreed to take one small step first: specify the legal framework in the NAP to to strengthen civic engagement.
As a pioneer in OGP’s sub-national pilot program, Seoul Metropolitan Government elected me as a member of the ICT strategy council revising the ordinance. Small incremental changes like this will lead to long term success, as indicated by the government of South Korea having been elected to lead OGP in 2017. The efforts that CSOs in South Korea have made great strides and will continue towards the long-term restructuring of a pro-civic engagement policy making process.
Jihwan Park, General Counsel at OpenNet Korea, a non profit organization that works on Internet freedom and openness, mainly works for open government and reforming intellectual property regime. Jihwan has worked as a representative, playing an intermediary role for CSOs and government participating in Open Government Partnership(OGP). He is now a member of Seoul Metropolitan Government ICT strategy council as well as Korea Internet Governance Alliance(KIGA).
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