Open Government Partnership UK

Charities, politics and civic space | An open letter to Francis Maude MP

Yesterday, members of the UK OGP civil society network sent the following letter to the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, on the subject of charities, politics and civic space.

The Rt Hon Francis Maude MP
The Cabinet Office
70 Whitehall

10 September 2014

Dear Minister

Charities, politics and civic space

You have on a number of occasions spoken of the importance of civil society holding government’s feet to the fire. Indeed, it has become a popular catchphrase within the Open Government Partnership community – encapsulating civil society’s vital role in ensuring that government is properly scrutinised and held to account.

We were therefore surprised and concerned at the comments made by your ministerial colleague Brooks Newmark in his first speech as Minister for Civil Society, that charities should “stick to their knitting” and “keep out of politics”. One might be forgiven for expecting a Minister for Civil Society to use such an address to defend the right of civil society to criticise and challenge the government of the day, particularly in light of attacks on civic space by governments around the world. If democracy is to function well, and government to be truly open and accountable, it is everyone’s responsibility – particularly those working with some of the most disadvantaged communities – to scrutinise and challenge government policy.

 Charities that campaign on issues or against policies related to their charitable objectives are not interfering in party politics; they are performing their legitimate role as a civil society actor. On this the Charity Commission is clear:

“All charities are united by having a vision of a better society. They have many different purposes, and are focused on different needs. But in the main they are united by a desire to achieve change, whether for a particular group of people in need, or for the wider common good. It is not surprising then that many charities wish to speak out, to use their voice and influence, and to campaign for the changes that would best help them achieve their purposes.”

The OGP, which you have championed, is based on the principle that civil society organisations, including charities, should play a full role in public debate. We encourage you to clarify the comments of your ministerial colleague and revisit recent legislation restricting non-party campaigning. Such attacks on civil society undermine the UK’s reputation and the cause of open government both domestically and internationally. The UK must set an example to those governments around the world intent on avoiding scrutiny and assert the right of civil society to speak out.

Yours sincerely,

Alan Hudson, Global Integrity
Alexandra Runswick, Unlock Democracy
Andy Williamson, Democratise
Anthony Zacharzewski, The Democratic Society
Cathy James, Public Concern at Work
Christine Allen, Christian Aid
David Banisar, ARTICLE 19
Diane Sheard, The ONE Campaign
Javier Ruiz, Open Rights Group
Laura James, Open Knowledge
Maurice Frankel, Campaign for Freedom of Information
Miles Litvinoff, Publish What You Pay UK
Robert Barrington, Transparency International UK
Simon Burall, Involve
Tim Davies, Practical Participation

Download: Charities, politics and civic space

Can we crowdsource an open government manifesto?

The experience of other Open Government Partnership countries demonstrates that elections can be a make or break moment for the progression of open government reforms. With that in mind, we’re exploring ways to ensure that the UK General Election in May 2015 results in more, not less, momentum for the open government movement.

We think a good way of achieving this, while simultaneously broadening the open government conversation in the UK, would be to crowdsource an open government manifesto. Here’s our first draft of a plan for how we might go about doing that, which we’d be grateful for any ideas on.

Tim Hughes, Open Government Programme Manager, Involve

OGP Commitment 6

As part of the UK’s 2013 OGP Commitments, the Government announced last year that it would publish its first-ever National Anti-Corruption Action Plan.

Although various government departments and institutions deal with corruption, until now there has been no one person or department coordinating this work – i.e. no overall strategy, no centralised data collection, and no accountability to Parliament or the public. One of the main consequences of this is that the Government does not have a good overview picture of the state of corruption within the UK. The OGP National Action Plan included a commitment to develop an anti-corruption action plan that coordinates anti-corruption activity across all Government departments.

Eleven civil society organisations – collectively known as the Bond Anti-Corruption Group – have been monitoring the implementation of this commitment and earlier this year submitted recommendations for what the plan should cover, focussing on domestic corruption, international corruption, and the interface between the two.

We are now in the process of selecting representatives to sit on the Government’s Business and Civil Society Forum which will feed in to the ministerial oversight of the Plan’s implementation.

We’ve engaged all the civil society organisations who have expressed an interest in this commitment to date, but if your organisation is not already involved and would like to be, please do get in touch. Contact details can be found here

Rachel Davies, Transparency International UK

Time to open up the open government movement: Omidyar Network grant announcement

UK OGPIt’s now eight months since the UK’s Open Government Partnership (OGP) 2013-15 National Action Plan was launched at the London OGP Summit. Over the 12 months before its launch, the action plan was developed collaboratively by the UK Government and members of the UK OGP civil society network. As well as securing a number of strong commitments, the process of developing the action plan itself sought to model an open and collaborative approach to policy making.

As coordinators of the civil society network, it has always been Involve’s ambition to push that process ever further. We’re proud of the level of collaboration we were able to achieve, but we’re not content with the open government conversation and movement being limited to the small portion of society it has been. And we want to continue to stretch and challenge what can be done within the framework of the Open Government Partnership – making the most of the opportunities and facing up to the challenges it presents us with.

With that in mind, since the publication of the last action plan, we’ve been working hard behind the scenes to secure funding for our coordination of the network to make a reality of these ambitions. I’m very pleased to be able to announce that Omidyar Network have agreed to fund our role for the next two years. Fantastic news, I hope you’ll agree.

As many of you will know, Omidyar Network have been a big supporter of the Open Government Partnership internationally, through both the financial and intellectual capital they have devoted to it. Indeed, Martin Tisné – director of policy at Omidyar Network – helped to found the OGP and is a civil society steering committee member. We are very excited to be working with a funder that has demonstrated such a commitment to establishing and developing the OGP and open government movement.

Our thanks must go to Laura BaconMartin Tisné and Andrew Clarke at Omidyar Network for working with us to secure this grant. We share the same ambition to innovate and stretch the operation of OGP at a national level, ensuring that it is an effective advocacy tool for civil society, creates new spaces and opportunities for reformers to collaborate and extends the dialogue deeper into government, civil society and beyond.

There’s a lot to do over the next couple of years, and I’m not going to outline it all here. We’ll be looking for advice and support at various points in the coming months in deciding how we go about achieving much of it. The key things we will be working towards are:

  • Building a broader and more diverse network of open government reformers
  • Ensuring delivery of existing open government commitments
  • Supporting development of new open government commitments
  • Prototyping new open and collaborative models of working with and within government
  • Gaining political support for open government and OGP across parties

With the General Election now less than a year away, the latter is particularly pressing. We want to use this opportunity to crowdsource an open government manifesto, allowing us to both broaden the open government conversation and build understanding of open government and the OGP across all political parties’. We intend to use the manifesto to advocate for open government commitments to be included within election manifestos and programmes for government of the political parties’, giving us a set of ready made commitments to develop for the next OGP action plan.

One other exciting element of the work I’ll mention now is a challenge fund to provide small grants to CSOs who put forward an interesting and innovative proposal for working towards one or more of the above goals. In the coming months we’ll be working with the CSO network to establish the criteria and process for the allocation of these funds.

Lots of exciting opportunities and challenges lie ahead – I hope to work with many of you on tackling them. If you’re a UK based civil society organisation or citizen, please get involved:

Tim Hughes, Open Government Programme Manager, Involve

Meeting Note: Planning the implementation of the National Action Plan | 26 Feb 2014

On 26 February 2014, members of the UK OGP civil society network met with Cabinet Office officials to discuss the implementation phase of the National Action Plan. The purpose of the meeting was to:

  • Update the network on progress to date
  • Run through the proposed implementation plan
  • Determine roles and responsibilities for the next phase

Progress to date

Outline of approach

It was outlined that:

  • The National Action Plan implementation has now been integrated into the ongoing programme of work of the Transparency Team – relationship managers would act as the link to departments to keep abreast of progress on commitments, feeding into a centralised coordination function.
  • Involve is continuing to seek funding for coordination of the civil society network – and is currently performing the role unfunded.
  • The OGP website has been updated with commitments from the new National Action Plan.

Discussion points

It was asked whether and how the collaborative approach to developing the commitments has carried through to the implementation of commitments.

It was reported that:

  • The anti-corruption commitment is progressing well, with CSOs having been in contact with the Home Office and a workshop scheduled for the 7th March.
  • Progress was being made on CoST internationally, though a lack of budget was still an issue. A list of potential options were being looked at for countries to get onboard.
  • At a domestic level, not so much progress had been made due to other work. Those involved were looking to set up a meeting to start taking it forward.
  • Conversations had taken place with the Cabinet Office on the open policy making commitment, but these have not to date been properly joined up. There needs to be better coordination of engagement with the different groups involved going forward.
  • The beneficial ownership commitment was also highlighted as an area where more coordination was needed.
  • A good start has been made on the open contracting commitment – with a roundtable having been held.

Implementation approach

Outline of approach

The suggested implementation approach was outlined, with:

  • Government and civil society leads continuing to work together to implement commitments against the agreed milestones
  • Cabinet Office Transparency Team relationship managers keeping track of progress on their departments’ commitments and to provide support where needed.
  • Regular progress updates produced in partnership between government and civil society, and published on the OGP website

Discussion points

It was clear from discussion that there was a need to ensure that CSOs interested in each commitment were properly coordinated, and invitations to any meetings were circulated around the full network by the lead CSOs on each commitment in advance to ensure that all who wished to be involved could be. It was also briefly discussed what principles should be applied to these meetings to ensure that they are open, perhaps including:

  • Open meeting invitations
  • Remote participation where possible
  • Meeting notes

It was agreed that Tim Hughes (Involve) should develop a set of principles, based on those developed for the full group meetings, that would be discussed with the CSO network and government. It was highlighted that capacity to oversee the implementation process from civil society’s perspective was currently limited due to lack of funding for the coordination role. It was also proposed that the CSO network and Cabinet Office should revisit the open policy making principles developed for the process to check whether they needed updating.

It was also discussed that thought was needed on how to best capture progress and reporting from the CSO network’s perspective. Ideas discussed included an online wiki that allowed for exchange of information among civil society or a monthly circulation on the email list. Cabinet Office Transparency Team will also be providing informal feedback within government. Lizetta Lyster (Cabinet Office) agreed to explore options for tracking commitments.

Governance and leadership

Outline of approach

It was outlined that the proposal is to set up a steering committee with Nick Hurd (Minister for Civil Society) would be formed to provide strategic leadership and maintain momentum. It is envisaged that this committee would have bi-annual meetings, and have five members from government and five members from the CSO network.

The proposed committee’s role would be to provide strategic oversight: reflecting on the previous 6 months, identifying success stories and issues, and taking a forward look to spot opportunities.

Discussion points

It was discussed that civil society represents on the steering committee would need to be agreed by the CSO network. It was agreed that nominations and elections should take place online (coordinated by Tim Hughes, Involve) to select the representatives. The following criteria for nomination were proposed:

  • Members (collectively) should have knowledge across the thematic areas covered in the National Action Plan
  • Members (collectively) should cover a national and international focus
  • Members (collectively) should have a spread of knowledge and expertise across the process itself (e.g. consultation, monitoring of commitments, wider networking, the international OGP, open policy making)
  • Members (individually) should have demonstrated a commitment to the process over time

It was discussed that network members should nominate themselves (and be nominated by others) and that members should remain on the committee throughout the year.

The commitment expected of members would include:

  • Collating progress reports and identifying issues
  • Attending the meetings themselves
  • Reporting back to the network
  • Participation in six monthly review workshops

New commitments

Outline of approach

It was reported that through the ongoing collaborative approach, new areas for commitments would be identified, including through bi-annual review workshops and through existing Transparency governance structures (e.g. the senior officials group).

The steering committee would review and sign-off new areas – identified mutually by government and civil society – for working groups to take forward and consider potential commitments in more detail.

Discussion points

It was discussed how the development of new commitments would be managed, and suggested that it should be done in the same way that commitments were developed for the current NAP. Government and civil society would jointly agree the area, nature, stretch and timeline of the commitment.

Implementation of commitments could start before a new NAP was published, with the idea being that how departments work on a day-to-day basis begins to change. The aim would be to develop a rolling conversation around the open government agenda, but the challenge will be to give it impetus. It was suggested that one way to do this would be to be opportunistic – identifying international opportunities that could be used to drive progress (e.g. G8 & G20 meetings, OGP international and regional meetings). It was agreed that the Cabinet Office Transparency Team would map these opportunities but would need others to highlight potential opportunities.

It was discussed that a key aspect of developing new commitments will be to conduct outreach and engagement with a wider group of civil society. It was questioned whether a budget could be set aside by government for events around the country, and to support organisations to engage who are not based in London and/or where open government is not part of their core work. It was suggested that the engagement of organisations in specific commitments needed to be seen as a way of drawing them into a conversation on open government. It was highlighted that there’s a danger that the development of new commitments is skewed by which organisations are currently engaged.

Cabinet Office and Involve to discuss in more detail.

Key milestones

Outline of approach

Key milestones of the process include:

  • OGP requirements
    • 12 month self-assessment – starts October 2014
    • Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) process – starts April 2015
  • Quarterly progress updates – starting April 2014*
    • Published on OGP website
    • Used to support self-assessment and IRM process
  • Steering committee meetings – every six months from June 2014
  • OGP UK 2015-17 NAP – due to be published October 2015

[NOTE: The quarterly progress updates were discussed in detail at the subsequent meeting with government commitment leads on 28 February. There was a concern expressed by a few attendees that progress updates with this regularity could prove overly bureaucratic. It was agreed that as reports would be due shortly on a 6 monthly timescale regardless, that the first updates would be produced now, and the future frequency reviewed subsequently.]

Discussion points

There was some discussion over the IRM timetable and how it fitted with the process. It was highlighted that not having the report before the development of the next NAP would be a shame as (as was the case with the previous IRM report) it would come too late to influence the process. It was suggested that a request should be made for early IRM findings to inform the process.

Roles and responsibilities

Outline of approach

The Cabinet Office Transparency Team will have responsibility for:

  • Oversight and implementation of the NAP process
  • Coordination of NAP commitment progress
  • Secretariat for NAP steering committee
  • Escalation point for blockers and issues with delivering commitments

The NAP commitment leads – departments and CSOs – will have responsibility for:

  • Ongoing engagement on existing commitments and potential new areas of interest
  • Joint production of progress updates
  • Regular engagement with Cabinet Office Transparency Team on progress
  • Feed into six monthly review meetings on progress and forward look

The CSO network will have responsibility for:

  • Representation on the NAP steering committee
  • Expansion of the civil society network to encourage engagement across all levels of civil society
  • Coordinator role in having oversight of what is happening across the piece

Discussion points

There was some discussion over the roles of the different respective government groups, with confusion over the role of the Senior Officials Group.

The Senior Officials Group is still under development and its exact role and purpose is to be confirmed, but Cabinet Office are exploring other avenues, such as this potential group, to help determine new commitments. Linking back to earlier meetings and conversations, it was questioned what the role of SMEs and other private sector organisations should be going forward. It was suggested that this should be determined on a case-by-case basis, with some private sector being engaged in specific commitments rather than across the board.

Next steps

  • Funding for CSO network coordination (Involve)
  • Dates for steering committee and review meetings to be agreed (CO & Involve)
  • Options for tracking commitments to be explored (CO)
  • Nominations and elections for CSO representation on steering committee (Involve)
  • Get ministerial approval for process and establish committee (CO)
  • Communication of approach to wider world (CO & Involve)
  • Agreement of principles for working groups (Involve)
  • Mapping of international opportunities to drive commitments (CO and CSOs)
  • Explore potential of budget for outreach and engagement (CO and Involve)
  • First progress reports to be published (CO and Involve)