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Guest Blog by Sierra Ramirez

How is the linking and learning pilot Local Open Contracting Initiatives (LOCI) getting underway? What are our learnings, what are the challenges we come across, how do we adapt? Follow our progress blogs to stay up to date and see how our thinking is taking shape.

On May 28th 2019 at the edge of the OGP Summit in Ottawa, Canada, 44 representatives from 17 local open contracting initiatives from around the world came together to kickoff the Local Open Contracting Initiatives (LOCI) Linking & Learning pilot. Pairs of local government and civil society were invited to create the LOCI program pilot together. 

Since the kickoff, we have been busy putting what we’ve learned together so far into a plan to build out the pilot. We’re taking an adaptive approach, which means that feedback is gathered regularly so the project can shift course in response to changing needs. 

We’re working with partners in Asia and Latin America to arrange the first two regional meetings, where we’ll match participants with tailored opportunities to strengthen their open contracting initiatives. Our theory is that if we can facilitate learning across a network, we can skip over some of the bottlenecks that can emerge with one to one support models. The regional meetings in Africa and Central and Easter Europe will follow later this or early next year.

What we learned in Ottawa

During the kickoff, participants created the scope and shape of this pilot. Together we decided that the LOCI network should be a community of practice that will support reformers at the local level through regional and global peer-learning. In a subsequent analysis, the input gathered from the kickoff day suggested that network should focus on 5 key learning/skillbuilding areas: Feedback and adaptation; policy reform; user engagement, training, and outreach; IT capacity building; and OC implementation basics. See the full report from the LOCI kickoff to learn more.

Network learning and feedback loops

We’re working with a consortium of partners in open contracting from around the world, who are ready to collaborate with these local initiatives. We do something very practical - we ask everyone what they need and what they can offer. The responses are analyzed and shared with regional hubs and co-hosts to support the development of well tailored activities that attempt to meet the partners’ needs. 

The opportunities for adaptation don’t just come at the beginning and end of the pilot. Our approach to learning involves  a loop composed of three parts:

  • Get Feedback: Interviews, surveys, conversations with input
  • Reflect & Adapt: Phase includes reporting on activities + results of surveys + proposed activity plans; validating all by readers; adapting activity plans. 
  • Attempt: Convene a linking & learning activity. 

And throughout the process they are accompanied by the network in lightweight ways, and we look for opportunities to matchmake with peers and experts who have faced similar challenges or similar contexts. 

Another benefit of the listening that is baked into this pilot is that we will be collecting experiences and learning from all the regions to share back with the network. There are abundant opportunities to share lessons learned by different initiatives in the future.

Moving the conversation forward 

If the LOCI pilot can successfully facilitate network learning, this collective knowledge and skill building can support the participants’ open contracting (OC) initiatives to be more successful and may generate shareable insights for the wider open contracting field. 

Participants were recently asked to complete a survey about their priorities for learning throughout the pilot, but specifically at regional meetings. Responses coming in so far include clusters around a few noteworthy ideas and points:

  • They want to get guidance from peers and subject matter experts who have worked through real world challenges in OC implementation. This is not the time for abstract or untested ideas.
  • They want to share about their local initiatives and challenges, and get frank, practical feedback on how to make them more effective
  • They want to learn how to give OC initiatives lasting infrastructure for budget, accountability, and data use
  • They want to learn how to better engage with users 
  • They want to learn how to link OC to other projects, such as public health, budgeting, and policy reforms.  

In order to understand their peers better and the experiences they are drawing from, profiles for each LOCI locality are being created. Going into regional meetings, we hope that getting more of this information will help facilitate the kind of frank conversations that participants are interested in. The profiles will be updated at intervals throughout the pilot, so that everyone can learn from the collective progress achieved. 

Challenges and next steps

When starting any feedback oriented process, there is almost always a trust gap. At this stage, we’re working to maintain reliable engagement methods, so participants will continue to invest time and energy letting us know the specifics about what they need. That means, as a network, we have the opportunity to learn a lot from the first two regional meetings, in Latin America and Asia, coming up later this year.  

We look forward to learn about the most useful and meaningful experiences early on, and then apply  these lessons in future gatherings in Africa and Central/Eastern Europe. The challenge will be to create a safe enough space for dialogue so we can get the frank conversations that participants want to have without being extractive or rushed.  

There is a lot for us to learn together, so we welcome you to send your thoughts and experiences so that we can all benefit. We look forward to sharing continue sharing the emergent learning from the LOCI pilot. 

LOCI is coordinated by Hivos in collaboration with the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), Development Gateway (DG), the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI), Iniciativa Latinoamericana por los Datos Abiertos (ILDA), Young Innovations (YI), Open Contracting Partnership (OCP).