Open Government Partnership UK

Faces of the UK Open Government Network – Miles Litvinoff

Open government can be an abstract idea. We want to give people a better idea of what it is, and who is in the UK Open Government Civil Society Network. We’ve asked some existing members of the network to give us their thoughts on what open government means to them, why it’s important, where they have seen open government make a difference to the lives of citizens, and the reforms they would ask of government.

We’ll be publishing a series of profiles of members of the network every few weeks, so keep a lookout! Our eighth blog is Miles Litvinoff, Publish What You Pay UK

Miles Litvinoff, Publish What You Pay UK

ML_photo_web_2012

Open government has a key international role to play in ensuring that finite natural resources – oil, gas and minerals – are exploited for the public good rather than to enrich business and political elites. In most countries, these resources belong collectively to all citizens. The well-documented problem of the resource curse reflects the extent to which the global extractives sector has experienced corruption and mismanagement, failed to deliver lasting benefits to citizens, despite the very large sums of money involved, and sometimes led to violent conflict.

Calls for greater transparency and accountability on the part of the world’s oil, gas and mining companies and their government business partners – especially in accounting for payments made and revenues received for natural resources – have gained strength from the wider movement towards open government.

Publish What You Pay UK engaged actively in civil society discussions with the UK government that resulted in the UK’s current Open Government Partnership National Action Plan. This helped reinforce the government’s commitments to implement quickly and comprehensively new EU Directives requiring extractive industry country- and project-level payment reporting and to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. The UK OGP NAP process also helped secure a government commitment to apply principles from the Open Data Charter to extractives data published by companies and the government in the UK. These commitments have helped PWYP colleagues in other countries work for similar measures.

While many of us benefit in our daily lives from oil, gas and minerals, the social and environmental costs of natural resource extraction fall disproportionately on local communities, not to mention the climate change implications for us all and especially the most vulnerable populations. Further-reaching open government reforms would require extractive companies to report publicly and comprehensively on their impacts on livelihoods, human rights and the environment, both locally and globally, for example via obligations developed through government-led business and human rights action plans.

Miles Litvinoff is Coordinator of Publish What You Pay UK.

 

What Next for Making Government More Open & Transparent? |Co-hosted with GlobalNet21| 18 May 2015 | Meeting note

GlobalNet21 and the UK Civil Society Open Government Network hosted an event on 18 May 2015 to explore the priorities for making the new government more open and transparent. The aim was to explore what open government issues matter most, and how we can take forward discussions on them.

The meeting started with two opening statements from Tim Hughes, UK Civil Society Open Government Network and Emily Randall, Unlock Democracy. The meeting then divided into three working groups to discuss ideas to explore the issues in more detail.

Tim Hughes, UK Civil Society Open Government Network

Tim introduced the principles behind the open government movement, the work of the UK Civil Society Open Government Network and their relationship to the Open Government Partnership. The Open Government Partnership is a platform for reformers inside and outside governments around the world to develop reforms that “promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance”. The UK government has been a member since 2011. The UK Open Government Civil Society Network is a group of organisations and individuals committed to making government work better for people.

Tim commented that the last government had a mixed record on issues such as Freedom of Information and open data. The government had pledged to be the “most open and transparent government in the world”, and whilst they have achieved openness on some measures, such as availability of data, on other measures they have done less well.

Tim commented that open government reformers have a good opportunity with the new government to build on what has come before, with the priority being not to lose the gains we have already made. He particularly identified the proposed reforms to the Human Rights Act as an area of concern.

Tim introduced the Open Government Manifesto, the network’s project to crowdsource ideas open government reforms to input into the next UK National Action Plan as part of the Open Government Partnership. The UK National Action Plan is due to be agreed by government and civil society by the end of the year. Tim identified the Open Government Partnership as the best thing the UK government did in the last parliament for open government.

Emily Randall, Unlock Democracy

Emily spoke on behalf of Unlock Democracy. Emily acknowledged the claims made by the last government that they were the best at openness but contested this claim, saying that open data is a good step, but not the same as being fully accessible. The big issue is about how the data is available and whether it is truly accessible – do you need a degree to understand what’s on the parliament or government website? She noted that Unlock Democracy volunteers often give up on getting the information they need from government websites and end up Googling.

Emily commented that we need a culture of transparency. Citizens should have full, easy access to information without having to ask for it. She referenced the projects “Follow the Money” and “Under the Influence” which seek to make money in politics more transparent. A major barrier for these projects is the formatting of the data being different across different Whitehall departments. For example, some departments use MS Excel and some use PDFs.

Citizens should know what influence the lobbying industry has had on policy. For example, there’s a good chance that Tesco has influence on taxes, the cost of fuel, employee rights and more. But we don’t know what they’re saying and how they’re influencing. The Lobbying Bill has not tackled this problem; the lobbying industry is on the record as saying their own regulation is better than the government’s.

Emily also commented that a ministerial veto on Freedom of Information is now on the cards when we should be progressing, not going backwards.

Working group feedback

After presentations from Tim and Emily, the meeting divided into three working groups to discuss ideas to explore the issues in more detail.

Table 1

The table discussed the important foundation of education necessary to hold government to account, ensure it is transparent and that it involves citizens. We need citizenship education and embedding a sense of citizenship, democratic schools, and to equip people with the right skills.

The table asked the question: is society set up for people to participate? At the moment we don’t have the ability but a Citizen’s Income could give people the space to participate.

The table also reflected on the Digital Democracy Commission, saying that the issue is the culture not fitting well with those recommendations. All the recommendations are good recommendations, but there are wider systemic issues.

Table 2

The table had a discussion about the importance of ministers getting out into the community and facing the public, meeting people, being held to account on promises.

The table also discussed the  need for more data pre election. We need to audit and fact check policies.

They also discussed different ways of voting, referencing the Swiss system as more systemic. Should we be voting on policies?

Table 3

The table felt that the commitments all had merit but that there were too many to look at in such a short time.

Therefore the table concentrated on transparency in contracting, a topic which people on the table had expertise in. It is difficult to give increased transparency because of commercial sensitivity to do with pricing and performance, and anti competition legal issues. Also a lot more information is available than you think, but the issue is that no one knows it’s available, so no one asks. Citizens need to be able to understand the system and how to access information.

On this theme, the table discussed the idea of have a contact at the local authority with the specific responsibility to let people know about information and answer questions, and who is independent.

The table also discussed the idea of participatory budgeting in projects, and the need for the opportunity to be available to a diversity of people, so that those involved are not viewed simply as another intellectual elite.

Contribute to the Open Government Manifesto

If you attended this event and you would like to comment and make suggestions on the commitments discussed on the tables, you can do so here: http://www.opengovmanifesto.org.uk/

Leading on Open Government | A UK Open Government Network briefing – May 2015

The UK Open Government Civil Society Network has produced a briefing for the new Minister for the Cabinet Office in which we set out how we believe this government can lead the open government agenda.

As the UK looks to the development of its third Open Government Partnership National Action Plan over the next six months, the leadership of the Minister for the Cabinet Office will be vital to ensure the UK continues to be amongst the frontrunners of open government.

In the briefing we call on the Minister for the Cabinet Office to work with civil society and other stakeholders to:

  • Continue to champion the reforms the UK has led on to date, including:
    • Company beneficial ownership transparency,
    • Extractive industry payment and revenue transparency,
    • Open data standards (e.g. Open Contracting Data Standard, International Aid Transparency Initiative, and the Open Data Charter),
    • The UK Anti-Corruption Action Plan.
  • Identify, develop, agree, implement and review new open government reforms, as part of the next Action Plan, that promote good governance, and support the effective, equitable and sustainable use of resources, delivery of public services and exercise of authority.
  • Model open and collaborative approaches to policy making, through the process of developing the UK’s new Open Government Partnership National Action Plan.
  • Challenge any policy or practice, where it arises, that threatens to undermine open government – particularly any plans to weaken the Freedom of Information Act.
  • Raise the practice of open government across the UK through collaboration and competition across the nations.
  • Support the open government movement internationally, encouraging new countries to join the OGP and challenging existing members where they backslide or stagnate.

The UK Open Government Civil Society Network also commits to working with the Minister for the Cabinet Office, his ministerial colleagues and civil servants to make progress across the breadth of open government, and continue to broaden the movement of individuals and organisations striving for open government.

Read the briefing in full here: Briefing on Open Government in the UK.

Faces of the UK Open Government Network – Andy Williamson, Democratise

Open government can be an abstract idea. We want to give people a better idea of what it is, and who is in the UK Open Government Civil Society Network. We’ve asked some existing members of the network to give us their thoughts on what open government means to them, why it’s important, where they have seen open government make a difference to the lives of citizens, and the reforms they would ask of government.

We’ll be publishing a series of profiles of members of the network every few weeks, so keep a lookout! Our seventh blog is Andy Williamson, Democratise

Andy Williamson, Democratise

andyw

Trust in government is low. Lower than ever. Our faith in the systems that govern us is failing (less than a quarter of us in the UK believe in our system of government). I don’t think there’s a giant conspiracy to protect democracy from the masses, more that the system has just got so complicated and opaque that most of us don’t have a clue what’s going on. Democracy is broken, no longer fit for purpose. As I said in my recent book, democracy has become arrogant and controlling and this isn’t acceptable. We need to turn things around, becoming open, accessible and participatory by default. Democracy as an intimate, co-productive ecosystem. Open government is one of the places where we can start.

Open government is no panacea, the opening up of government is still occurring on ‘their’ terms not ‘ours’. Despite committing on the one-hand to openness and transparency in public services, this is being side-stepped by outsourcing and privatisation on the other. The focus too has been on open data but what use is open data without the tools and – more importantly – the skills to do something with it? We risk simply creating a new digital elite and that is wrong too. We have to focus as much on digital and information literacy, access and empowerment as we do on formats for publishing the data in the first place.

So, even where there is good intent in government (and I believe there is), we still have a long way to go. The 2015 party manifestos show that our political representatives still don’t quite understand the critical importance of open government and transparency as cornerstones of democratic renewal.

We need to do more to make the processes and the data not just open, not simply accessible but able to be used effectively by citizens for citizens. That’s why it’s imperative that civil society has a strong voice around open government. Government are not the experts at this game, we all are. We all are because this is about the decisions, laws, services and regulations that affect our lives.

Dr Andy Williamson is the Founder of Democratise and DemocracySpace, a Governor of the Democratic Society and the Chair of Do It UK.

Opening Up Government: Birmingham Workshop | 20 April 2015 | Meeting note

The UK Civil Society Open Government Network is working with civil society organisations across the UK to deliver a series of workshops to discuss and develop commitments for the next National Action Plan, and build the community of transparency, participation and accountability reformers in the UK. For more details on this workshop series and where we’re holding them, click here.

Details

BVSC: Centre for Voluntary Action, 138 Digbeth, Birmingham B5 6DR

Monday, 20th April 2015 from 14:00 to 17:00

Purpose

  1. Discuss and develop ideas for open government reforms in Birmingham and throughout the UK
  2. Build the community of transparency, participation and accountability reformers in the UK
  3. Share the work of the Open Government Partnership and UK Open Government Civil Society Network

What does an “open government” look like? What are the benefits?

  • User-centred design (e.g. council websites being more user friendly)
  • Live streaming council meetings
  • Leadership
  • Government giving up a level of control over the message
  • Skilled up citizenry
  • Skilled up local and national government (e.g. open data skills)
  • If info is secret, we should be concerned!
  • “Logical design”
  • Feed upwards
  • Important to make open info accessible
  • Need to ensure government can respond to what it hears – willingness and capacity
  • Open about what it’s trying to achieve
  • Open government could make all info available and accessible
  • Listening to responses and learning
  • Better communication between government and civil society
  • More accessible/ better resented data
  • Less jargon
  • Share evidence that decisions are based on
  • Government needs to be honest about how quickly change can (or can’t) happen

What would a good open government reform look like? Reviewing existing open government ideas

Attendees were asked to look at the current commitments in the Open Government Manifesto and rank them in priority order. Each table was given a subset of half of the existing ideas.

Priority

Level

Table 1 Table 2
1 Open government accountability, e.g. an independent ‘Office for Open Government’ Meaningful engagement when consulting with stakeholders
Co-producing meaningful consultation principles and guidelines
Adopt an open and formal process for piloting new policies
Co-production of public services
2 Meaningful engagement when consulting with stakeholders
Better accountability of elected representatives during their term of office
The UK government should commit to setting up an independent body, with membership drawn from civil society, to scrutinise and oversee Britain’s security and intelligence agencies
Transparency in government contracting
3 Citizen participation in spending 1% of public budgets
Co-producing meaningful consultation principles and guidelines
Developing dialogue skills in public admin
Developing dialogue skills in public admin
End corrupt money in UK property
Fight corruption in the UK and Abroad
Make open government a truly ‘national’ policy
4 The UK government should commit to setting up an independent body, with membership drawn from civil society, to scrutinise and oversee Britain’s security and intelligence agencies
Co-production of public services
Transparency in government contracting
Fight corruption in the UK and Abroad
5 Implement the recommendations of the Digital Democracy Commission
End corrupt money in UK property
Adopt an open and formal process for piloting new policies
Make open government a truly ‘national’ policy

 

What open government reforms would you introduce?

Attendees were asked to develop their own ideas for open government reforms they would like to see introduced. These commitments will be added to the Open Government Manifesto.

Education for Involvement: engaging students/ the community in citizenshipHow do we overcome citizens not knowing/ understanding the information they need to play a part? How do we equip people with these?

Education, starting in school (and those of school age, not at school e.g. home-schooled)

  • How do policies affect you in real life?
  • What does government do? Both locally and nationally
  • Where do you fit in?
  • Why should you vote/ be involved?

Embedded throughout the education system from an early age, in core subjects rather than standalone.

Educating people to take ownership and be an engaged citizen.

Understanding of processes.

Confidence building

Ability to participate in democracy and decision-making

Why is your idea important?

Only once people are equipped with the skills to be involved with government be truly open

Purpose/ benefits of openness?
Government should take a carrot – rather than stick – approach to increasing open government.
Openness presents the increased opportunity for:

  • Public services to collaborate around outcomes
  • Society being able to learn from mistakes

Benefits such as these should be the focus for developing open government.
There should be a focus on building the evidence base for open government – collecting and sharing the evidence of what works. This could be integrated into the work of the What Works Centres.
To support this, initiatives such as the Census should be maintained to allow comparison across time.