Contesting Open Government: Discourse, Development, and Democracy

Stephanie Trapnell

Advisor: John G. Dale, PhD, Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Committee Members: Nancy Hanrahan, James Witte

Online Location,
April 20, 2021, 01:00 PM to 03:00 PM


The Open Government Partnership was launched in 2011 as global multistakeholder initiative dedicated to ensuring transparency, accountability, and participation in government. The core of its mandate is a national action planning exercise that includes both government and civil society actors, and is considered a collaborative process. The aim of this dissertation is to explore the relationship between open government, development, and democratization through a critique of the conceptual foundations of open government, and the production of case studies on the OGP process in six countries. This study proposes that open government is a variant of development, and subject to specific limitations as a result. It is undergirded by the same economic models that drive the space of international development, but this framework collapses its transformative elements, and gives rise to dissatisfaction with end results. The discourse of open government is explored through a critique of the economic calculus that structures interventions through the model of efficiency, effectiveness, and measurability. This is complemented by a critique of gender in development, which reveals how the economic framing of complex issues depoliticizes and voids their transformative potential.

This dissertation also questions whether open government is inherently “collaborative.” Much has been made about the partnership approach, and the focus on collaboration and co-creation in the design of open government interventions. But there remains the question of whether a contentious politics functions in the space of open government, and if so, whether the nature of this politics is productive or obstructive. While there are numerous claims that open government serves democracy, or correlates with democratic outcomes, there is little discussion of whether the exercise of open government may be democratic, or even democratizing. In particular, the relationship between open government and democratization processes has yet to be explored in the practices of actors operating within that space. This question is explored through a field-theoretical analysis of the space of open government, with a specific focus on state-society relations and multiple scales of activity, e.g., global, national, and sub-national.