Chapter 7. Participation practices and innovation

One of the core principles of an open government culture is stakeholder participation. This refers to all the ways in which stakeholders can be involved in the policy cycle and in service design and delivery and can include different levels of participation, including:

  • Information: An initial level of participation characterised by a one-way relationship in which the government produces and delivers information to stakeholders. It covers both the on-demand provision of information and “proactive” measures by the government to disseminate information.

  • Consultation: A more advanced level of participation that entails a two-way relationship in which stakeholders provide feedback to the government and vice versa. It is based on the prior definition of the issue for which views are being sought and requires the provision of relevant information, in addition to feedback on the outcomes of the process.

  • Engagement: When stakeholders are given the opportunity and the necessary resources (e.g. information, data and digital tools) to collaborate during all phases of the policy cycle and in service design and delivery (OECD, 2017[1]).

The reasons for governments adopting participatory approaches and the objectives they aim to achieve vary, but generally include instrumental benefits, which refers to creating better results such as an improved policy, law or service; and intrinsic benefits, which refers to an improved process that is more legitimate, transparent, accountable, and inclusive, and that thereby contributes to building trust, strengthening social cohesion and enhancing representative democracy (OECD, 2016[2]). In this sense, the OECD Recommendation on Open Government affirms “that stakeholder participation increases government accountability, broadens citizens’ empowerment and influence on decisions, builds civic capacity, improves the evidence base for policy making, reduces implementation costs, and taps wider networks for innovation in policy making and service delivery” (OECD, 2017[1]).

The objectives to be achieved through adopting participatory approaches vary according to when in the policy-cycle stakeholders are engaged. As Figure 7.1shows, stakeholders could be involved at several stages ranging from the definition of priorities to the evaluation of the policy. Data from OECD countries show, however, that governments most often open the policy cycle to input at the phase of drafting a policy and when seeking feedback on a policy or service (OECD, 2016[2]).

Finally, and in line with the three levels of participation, governments have a variety of tools and means to engage stakeholders. The appropriate choice of the engagement tool depends on the objectives to be achieved, the question at hand and the stakeholders to be involved. In most cases, a mix of several tools is most appropriate in order to receive diverse input and to ensure that citizens can participate in their preferred way. Box 7.2 highlights a set of tools available. Further examples can also be found on the OECD Open Government Toolkit Navigator.1

Lebanon has committed to open government reforms and to engaging citizens and other stakeholders in the policy cycle. As noted in Chapter 3, Circular No. 21/2012 of 25 August 2012 requires all public entities to publish draft legal texts on government websites and solicit consultation and feedback from stakeholders, including civil society. Public entities are required by this circular to assess the feedback received from consultation and integrate it as necessary into updated versions of the legal texts. Similarly, work completed under Afkar III includes the establishment of a policy dialogue platform and detailed guidance, with several pilots implemented. These efforts are implemented in a challenging environment, which is characterised, according to the OECD survey, by distrust between government and civil society and a still too widespread culture of secrecy, for example cabinet meetings and parliamentary sessions are held behind closed doors. Despite this situation, Lebanon can build on several positive experiences in engaging stakeholders that have resulted in more trusting relationships between the ministries and civil society organisations concerned.

Notably, these positive experiences include the process of drafting the national anti-corruption strategy. The Technical Anti-corruption Committee, which is made up of several state institutions, led the work and consulted with various stakeholders, including parliament, civil society, the private sector and trade unions, as well as with the UNDP Regional Project on Anti-corruption and Integrity in the Arab Region. The strategy includes as its sixth outcome “enhancing the participation of society in promoting a culture of integrity” through awareness and educational programmes targeting the wider public, and encouraging non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to play a role in particular “in all aspects of the national strategy: preparation of public policies and strategies, proposals of projects and laws, monitoring and evaluation of public affairs and public administrations”. This also includes strengthening journalists’ capacity to support the fight against corruption. Similarly, the elaboration of the national action plan for the implementation of the Right of Access to Information Law saw the active participation of civil society, media and academics in the drafting process, and their involvement in the implementation is equally foreseen (see Chapter 3).

As has been undertaken in countries such as Costa Rica (OECD, 2016[2]), Lebanese civil society could consider creating a network of civil society organisations focused on open government and its principles. The network could bring together stakeholders involved in the promotion of different elements of Lebanon’s open government agenda, including those advocating for EITI and OGP membership, as well as civil society organisations working in the fields of access to information, open data and anti-corruption. Such a network could allow for a more structured approach to open government and ensure the inclusiveness and representativeness of civil society voices. The network could also play a key role in promoting open government principles and practices at the local level.

Lebanon could build on these positive examples to establish more regular and institutionalised engagement with civil society actors in the field of public governance and open government, more specifically an open government stakeholder network. Such a co-ordination mechanism can help to engage other state actors, such as Parliament and local administrations, as well as actors from society, such as academia, civil society, media and the private sector. This forum could build upon the experiences of the national committee formed in 2017 to oversee the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and should interact with these goals. The committee is chaired by the prime minister and includes more than 50 state officials, as well as two representatives from the private sector and two from civil society, namely the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development and Caritas Lebanon. It is a co-ordinating body for the SDGs and is responsible for raising awareness about the goals and ensuring that they are integrated into national policies and programmes. The committee presents a way of institutionally involving civil society in the SDG process. While it only includes two large organisations, these organisations conducted a series of national consultations and workshops with more than 300 civil society representatives. The committee has several working groups, including a thematic group on peace, led by OMSAR, which is responsible for the implementation of SDG 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions (Division for Sustainable Development Goals, 2018[17]). As SDG 16 calls for the implementation of open government principles, this thematic group should be involved in any co-ordination or consultation mechanism set up for open government reforms.

The public consultation conducted by the Lebanese Petroleum Association is another consultative process that can be seen as inspiration for further participatory approaches. In line with the legal requirements, the Lebanese government commissioned a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for the Exploration and Production Activities Offshore Lebanon in 2011, which was published in 2014. As the first assessment relied on limited consultation with different ministries and provided for no involvement of civil society (Lebanese Oil and Gas Initiative, 2017[50]), the Lebanese Petroleum Association, following civil society advocacy, organised a public consultation in 2019. The public was able to submit written comments during a period of seven weeks on the draft SEA. This online consultation was complemented by five public consultation sessions in Beirut, Tripoli, Byblos, Saida and Naqoura (Lebanese Petroleum Administration, 2019[51]). The revised SEA has not yet been published at the time of writing.

These examples could provide a basis to elaborate the suggested guidelines on stakeholder engagement (see Chapter 3) in order to further institutionalise consultative and participatory approaches in policy making.

The draft Digital Transformation Strategy and its related action plan also puts an important emphasis on stakeholder participation, and notes that most governmental entities currently do not engage citizens in the design of their digital services. The strategy therefore aims to encourage the public administration to engage with citizens and get their feedback through a variety of different digital platforms and traditional methods such as events, town hall meetings and conferences. Citizens and other stakeholders should be consulted in the design and rollout of different services and regarding the development of new technologies such as blockchain and artificial intelligence. As Box 7.3 shows, the action plan foresees an awareness campaign for citizens and the development of e-participation tools. In order to measure success, the key performance indicators include citizen and business participation.

The use of e-democracy tools is a common feature in OECD countries; however, their success depends on the uptake of these initiatives by citizens. Reaching a diverse audience is often a challenge, as can be the back office and feedback loops needed to ensure that stakeholders receive information on how their input was used or why it was not taken into account. Lebanon could therefore consider adopting an inclusive and collaborative process that includes stakeholders inside and outside the public administration in the design and roll-out of the e-participation platform. The government should equally consider combining these efforts with offline participation opportunities.

In some cases, civil society associations have drafted laws and bills on crucial matters and presented them to the concerned authority and/or institution, including the Right of Access to Information Law. To further encourage stakeholder participation in the legislative process, Lebanon could consider including a dedicated section in the planned e-participation platform for the consultation process of draft laws. As noted above, the legal framework is supported by Circular No. 21/2012, which requires all public entities to publish draft legal texts on government websites for at least 15 days to solicit consultation and feedback from stakeholders.

In 25 OECD countries,2 a participatory process is mandatory for all primary laws, and in 20 OECD countries3 it is mandatory for all subordinate regulations, with draft laws generally posted for four weeks for consultation (OECD, 2018[52]). In France, the website https://parlement-et-citoyens.fr enables citizens to participate in the drafting process of laws currently being prepared by Parliament, and in most EU countries there is a central website for consultation on draft laws by the administration. Table 7.1 shows some examples.

In OECD countries, consultations on draft laws do not occur solely on an online portal but are combined with other forms such as informal consultations, advisory groups, formal consultations with social partners and physical public meetings (OECD, 2018[52]). Economic and social councils play a vital role in the consultation with social partners. In this sense, it is timely that Lebanon aims to reinforce the role of its council in consultation with social and economic actors, and has appointed new members (Division for Sustainable Development Goals, 2018[17]).

Enabling citizens and businesses to submit complaints about the public administration is another way of involving stakeholders in improving policies and services, as well as being a means to interact with them directly and solve individual grievances, which can lead to improving trust in the public administration. In Lebanon there is currently no ombudsman office, despite the adoption of Law No. 664 of 2015, which is still awaiting implementation (implementation of this law is included in the National Anti-corruption Strategy). The Central Inspection Board (CIB) receives complaints from citizens, and its function is to monitor the actions of the public administration and propose improvements. Any citizen can “lodge a complaint against any public administrative department that is submitted to the authority of the Central Inspection or against the employees and workers of that department”.4 Complaints can be submitted in person in the office in Beirut, which also allows for the submission of anonymous complaints via the website of the CIB or its mobile application. The CIB, through the information and data it collects on the functioning or malfunctioning of the public administration, therefore plays a vital role for open government reforms as it can advise the public administration on reforms to undertake. In order to enable citizens and other stakeholders, such as the media and civil society, to play their role as watchdog and promote reforms, the CIB could also consider publishing data about its investigations, such as aggregated data about complaints, that highlight the themes and institutions concerned. In order to further facilitate the submission and follow-up of complaints and improve the quality of public services, the CIB could also facilitate direct contact between citizens and their administrations. For instance, in Morocco the national portal "chikaya.ma" (launched in January 2018) enables citizens to file complaints identifying the organisation concerned and to contact the administration and make suggestions for improving public service provision. Citizens can also express their level of satisfaction after their issue is addressed. The administration commits to addressing complaints within defined deadlines.

OMSAR has taken first steps towards engaging stakeholders in improving the quality of public services and in enabling them to provide feedback. The OECD survey found that OMSAR conducted two polls in 2019 on its website, one regarding the importance of interacting with public and private sectors using a digital ID and one regarding the prioritisation of digital services. This is an important step to involving stakeholders in policy and service design. However, the ability to strengthen citizen confidence depends on the feedback loop. Therefore, it would be advisable for OMSAR to provide information about the outcome of the polls and how they have been used to transform/inform policy making.

  • Consider the establishment of an open government stakeholder network, bringing together different levels and branches of government with civil society organisations involved in the promotion of different elements of Lebanon’s open government agenda, including the thematic group on peace of the SDG committee.

  • Adopt an inclusive and collaborative process in the design and roll-out of the e-participation platform for the consultation process of draft laws by involving diverse stakeholders. Lebanon could consider including a dedicated section in the planned e-participation platform for the consultation process of draft laws. Importantly, the government should equally consider combining these efforts with offline participation opportunities.

  • Strengthen stakeholder feedback and complaints mechanisms by further developing the interface between the administration and citizens. Such an initiative should allow direct contact with relevant institutions, facilitate complaint processing and case-by-case communication, and provide systematic feedback. The interface should also be able to provide an overview of the indicators and figures related to the complaints received and addressed.

1 https://www.oecd.org/gov/open-government-toolkit-navigator.htm.

2 For other four countries it is mandatory for some primary laws and for another four countries for major primary laws. The data cover 34 OECD countries and the European Union.

3 For other eight countries it is mandatory for major subordinate regulations and for another four countries for some subordinate regulations.

4 http://www.cib.gov.lb/website.htm.

References

[6] Division for Sustainable Development Goals (2018), Lebanon: Voluntary National Review on Sustainable Development Goals, United Nations, https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/19484Lebanon_VNR_2018.pdf (accessed on 29 October 2019).

[9] Government of Lebanon (2019), Lebanon Digital Transformation: Strategies to Actions.

[7] Lebanese Oil and Gas Initiative (2017), Environmental Impact of Petroleum Activities in Lebanon, https://logi-lebanon.org/uploaded/2017/10/5ODZQNGL_SEA%20Report%20final.pdf (accessed on 29 October 2019).

[8] Lebanese Petroleum Administration (2019), Strategic Environmental Assessment 2019, https://www.lpa.gov.lb/SEA_2019.php (accessed on 29 October 2019).

[11] OECD (2019), Better Regulation Practices across the European Union, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264311732-en (accessed on 29 October 2019).

[10] OECD (2018), OECD Regulatory Policy Outlook 2018, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264303072-en.

[1] OECD (2017), Recommendation of the Council on Open Government, https://legalinstruments.oecd.org/en/instruments/OECD-LEGAL-0438.

[2] OECD (2016), Open Government: The Global Context and the Way Forward, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264268104-en.

[3] OECD (2012), Regulatory Consultation: A MENA-OECD practitioners’ guide for engaging stakeholders in the rule-making process, OECD, Paris, https://www.oecd.org/mena/governance/MENA-Practitioners-Guide-%20EN.pdf (accessed on 29 October 2019).

[4] OECD (2001), Citizens as Partners: OECD Handbook on Information, Consultation and Public Participation in Policy-Making, OECD Publishing, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264195578-en (accessed on 15 November 2019).

[5] Participedia (2020), “Methods” webpage, https://participedia.net/?selectedCategory=method (accessed on 2 July 2020).

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