My first day at the World Bank found me flying to Moscow to participate in the Open Government Conference. Over the next five days, I taught master classes on Open Government to government officials, civil society experts, and interested parties; discussed Russia’s approach to open government; and appeared on Russian TV discussing the strategic importance of open government and what it means for citizens. And that was just while in Moscow.
Two months later, I was again in Russia, this time in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. By chance, my visit coincided with two natural cataclysms in the region: a meteor and a powerful earthquake. I was speaking at the tenth Krasnoyarsk Economic Forum, an event that has been in existence since 2004; it is one of the largest and most successful in the country convening senior policymakers, investors, and opinion leaders. KEF 2013, titled “Russia: Roadmap for Change,” explored new economic models and policies aimed at transforming institutions and improving living standards. It was here, in Krasnoyarsk, that then-president Medvedev delivered his famous 2008 keynote speech which laid “four I’s” at the cornerstone of the country’s development: institutions, infrastructure, innovation, and investment. Later, he added the fifth: intellect. At the Forum, the prime minister again reiterated the importance of improving human capital (4+1 formula) as a premise for sustainable economic development
In the vision I heard at KEF, innovation and intellect are seen as mutually reinforcing: developing human capital and increasing long-term domestic demand for smart technologies have become priorities for Russia. A special emphasis was put on Russia’s path toward an innovation-based economy and the policies needed to foster this transition. Likewise, foreign experts echo this approach, yet many challenges remain, as reflected in the OECD Review of Innovation Policy: Russian Federation.
I was particularly struck by points made by Medvedev and Minister of Open Government Mikhail Abyzov (click here for a video archive of all KEF sessions). Both underlined the need to strengthen the country’s fledgling democracy. Medvedev recognized that a 5% economic growth benchmark cannot be achieved without democratic transformation. Both ministers actively supported the policy of open government.. In their view, the next stage after “opening the government” should be “making the government easier to use and understand.” Ultimately, Minister Abyzov said, the goal of the Open Government policy is to transform Russia into “otkrytoe gosudarstvo” or an “open state. What stood out was a question I was asked – whether I was positive or negative about Russia’s economic future and which approach, top-down or bottom-up, would work best. Being an optimist, I spoke about a positive future – one where Open Government could help transform the government of Russia and its people could be co-creators of solutions. Time will tell if I was right.