On 4th November 2014, seven members of the UK Open Government Civil Society Network met Francis Maude (Minister for the Cabinet Office) and officials from the Cabinet Office Transparency Team to discuss progress and next steps on the Open Government Partnership in the UK.
Civil Society Network
Andy Williamson, Democratise
Anthony Zacharzewski, Democratic Society
Claire Schouten, International Budget Partnership
Martin Tisne, Omidyar Network
Rachel Davies, Transparency International UK
Simon Burall, Involve
Tim Hughes, Involve
Kitty von Bertele
Progress to date
Claire Schouten introduced a discussion on progress to date on the behalf of the civil society network.
The value of open government principles being applied to private as well as public sector organisations was highlighted, and the government’s recognition of this through the commitments included in the 2013-15 National Action Plan was welcomed.
Attention was drawn to the positive developments from the action plan, including the commitments on beneficial ownership and the anti-corruption action plan. The UK’s leadership on beneficial ownership in G20 was welcomed.
There has been a marked difference in the level of constructive engagement during the process of developing the 2013-15 National Action Plan. However, civil society representatives reported the need for more consistency across government departments in engaging with civil society on the delivery of commitments.
A circular or statement from the minister outlining expectations for all in terms of collaborative engagement would help government and civil society was suggested. The movement of staff and retaining knowledge of the process has been a particular problem.
More notice from government departments on opportunities to engage was requested, in order that civil society can provide more constructive feedback. Government tends to allow itself much more time to prepare something, than it allows others to comment on it, which needs to be overcome in order to support civil society engagement.
Collaboration between government and civil society needs to carry through to the delivery of commitments. This needs to be factored into the development of the next National Action Plan. The collaborative and open process could be as, if not more, transformational as many of the commitments.
The process must not become a tick box exercise by government departments, but allow for the unpicking of issues. It was questioned how the process and relationships between government and civil society could be improved. Regular reviews are not enough. It was suggested that government department to department peer exchange might help to embed culture change.
Regarding the status of commitments, Francis Maude felt that progress had been good despite some commitments being behind schedule. He remarked that if this were not the case, then the action plan would likely have not been ambitious enough. The minister spoke of his commitment and pride in what’s been achieved, but emphasised that the rest of the world is moving fast and the UK can’t rest on our laurels. He spoke of being very keen to ensure we continue to do challenging things.
Government will be assessing the engagement between government and civil society as part of its own self assessment, including what has and hasn’t worked well.
It was suggested that lessons could be taken from the legislative openness group’s public facing events as a way of building and maintaining momentum, and getting more people involved in the process.
The OGP has given ‘rocket boosters’ to work already taking place in government, such as on open policy making. While it is not yet the default, it has become more normal. It was suggested that support for open policy making now needed to move from a hand-holding to a supportive role.
Francis Maude said that he felt the case for open policy making being the only way of doing things still needed to be made: Where a policy issue is not controversial, it doesn’t matter how you make policy, so you may as well make it openly; Where a policy issue is controversial, if you try to make policy in the traditional way then you start with the maximum amount of suspicion – the open policy model is the only way you can mobilise support and get consensus. Unless you go to great lengths to show your working and there are no fears of hidden agendas, you just won’t get things done.
Civil society organisations are actively trying to sell this message into government, but there is an issue of open policy needing lead time to set up. How do you get policy makers to start the process when it doesn’t feel immediately necessary, rather than when the policy process is under pressure?
The role of the Transparency Team in ensuring progress updates were completed and that departments engaged with civil society was emphasised and welcomed.
Kitty von Bertele introduced the next steps discussion, outlining that the Transparency Team wanted to use the next few months to better embed the process and encourage attitude change.
There has been much international interest in the development of the 2013-15 action plan, as well as some justified self-congratulation. However, its now important to capitalise on what has been achieved so far and maintain the UK’s leadership position. How do we properly stretch ourselves?
Widening participation was identified as a priority – how do we get more people involved and create opportunities for people to engage? There is an opportunity to work out how to make the OGP relevant to different people in different regions and demonstrate that it’s possible to piece together in a complex structure.
Scotland are potentially interested in hosting a roundtable, which would be a good starting point. The Minister signalled his interest in this. It was emphasised that the process must not be driven or owned by the Westminster or Whitehall, but would need to adopt a networked peer-to-peer approach.
The question of the role of cities was raised. This is something that Mexico is going to be looking at and that the OGP is going in a local direction. The UK could potentially trial an approach to involving local areas to see how it works. There would need to be a balance between maintaining the national level as well as getting local interest.
A network of peers could be established in the UK and internationally of people doing open government well at a local level.
In order to widen participation we need to speak the language of those working on particular areas – currently it’s still a case of the open government geeks talking within the church. There’s a need for a broad civil society group beyond those interested in open government specifically.
It was discussed that political transitions have not worked well in other OGP countries. It’s important that we maintain the momentum – the civil society network can help the government plan for this. Open government is not contentious in a party political sense. The civil society network needs to speak to relevant individuals in all parties to get open government on the agenda.
Open government manifesto
Tim Hughes introduced the open government manifesto, stating that the civil society network was using it as a “hook” to engage a broad range of civil society, ensure momentum through the election, and to start scoping out priorities for the next National Action Plan. Involve, on behalf of the network, would be attending events and establishing workshops to get people to feed in, and are interested in the role the Cabinet Office can play in supporting the initiative and ensuring it gets out to as many groups as possible.
The timeline for the manifesto was discussed, which is currently for the crowdsourcing phase to be open for 4 months, with an expert group then prioritising the commitments, and a shortlist being presented to the incoming government post election.
It was suggested that there was opportunity for the government to get involved in the manifesto by supporting events and the broadening of participation.
The issue of declining civic space in OGP member countries was raised and the operation of the OGP’s new rapid response mechanism policy. A current issue of concern is the attacks on the Montenegro IRM researcher.
Civil society representatives emphasised the importance of the UK government supporting international civil society through its role on the OGP steering committee. Government and civil society would need to work together to ensure that the relevant levers are used most effectively.
Open government is the simple yet powerful idea that institutions work better for citizens when they are transparent, engaging and accountable. If you’re interested in opening up government budgets, contracts, datasets, decisionmaking, information, policymaking or public services, we invite you to join the UK Open Government Forum.
At the centre of open government are three core principles:
- Transparency. Disclosing government data and information on areas such as public spending, government contracts, lobbying activity, the development and impact of policy, and public service performance.
- Participation. Supporting a strong and independent civil society, involving citizens and other stakeholders in policy and decisionmaking processes, and protecting whistleblowers who uncover waste, negligence or corruption.
- Accountability. Establishing rules, laws and mechanisms that ensure government listens, learns, responds and changes as a result of transparency and participation.
The UK Open Government Forum has been established by the UK Open Government Civil Society Network to build and support the open government movement in the UK, increasing its breadth and diversity, and facilitating greater collaboration across it. The civil society network works with and challenges government in the UK to adopt ambitious open government reforms as a member of the Open Government Partnership.
Through joining the UK Open Government Forum you will be able to:
Open government is critical to the wellbeing and empowerment of citizens. Among other things, it helps to ensure that those who take decisions that affect people’s lives are properly accountable and responsive to the public – supporting the effective, equitable and sustainable use of resources, delivery of public services and exercise of authority.
This is an open invitation to help make open government a reality in the UK.
Tim Hughes, Involve
Josephine Suherman, Involve
Miles Litvinoff, Publish What You Pay UK
Nehal Depani, Compact Voice
Rachel Davies, Transparency International UK
Claire Schouten, International Budget Partnership
Thomas McGarvey, Transparency International UK
Andrew Parsons, Public Concern at Work
Beck Wallace, Cafod
First Hour (OGP civil society network)
Update from Tim Hughes, Involve:
Involve has secured funding from Omidyar Network for two years, signed off in late June, to take on the coordination role. Our priorities: expanding reach and diversity of network, ensuring current commitments fulfilled, strong process for developing next NAP, focus on maintaining and building momentum for after the election.
Involve is looking after the development of an open source forum/ communication platform for the network. This will solve problem that only the coordinator can see who is on the email list and will allow us to collaborate more freely online without bombarding people with emails. Hoping to start using in the next week or so. No action needed from network members except to sign up when they receive a notification.
Discussion on how regularly to meet. Decided on regular meetings booked with decent notice (3-4 weeks in advance), but not held in diary further in advance.
Discussion on how to involve a wider range of civil society groups. Involve discussing with Scottish government and civil society in Northern Ireland. Looking to build relationship with Wales. Last NAP London-centric and England-centric. Open Gov Manifesto planned to engage wider range of people in OGP. Depending on how successful it is, close date will be end of February or beginning of March.
Involve has a challenge fund pot from the Omidyar grant to be used to fund innovate forms of engaging civil society or government – civil society collaboration. One option for the use of this money would be to focus it on building civil society networks in Scotland and Wales. Interested in views on whether this is the right priority.
How to widen access to ‘non-techy’ groups, e.g. those in poverty?
Looking to use umbrella organisations, greater range of civil society groups etc as route to reach a broader range of people. Less likely to reach beyond active groups of citizens, although open to ideas on how to do that.
Could engage with journalists about benefits of open government in anecdotal way. Transparency International says Sunday Times are interested. University unions might also be open to this. Youth groups like Restless Development. Other groups delivering frontline services to reach ‘hard to reach’ audiences e.g. those in poverty, homeless.
Tim fed back on idea to use case studies of past achievements to demonstrate what open government is and why its important to a wider audience. TI is collecting case studies on how FOI’s have been used to unveil corruption in local authorities. It’s a deterrent. People can relate to those stories. Other case studies include lobbying meetings around oil companies and the Iraq war. Necessary to have balanced case studies showing government being proactive and engaging as well as being ‘caught out’ through transparency measures.
Could approach Mark Thomas, who has satirical show on R4 on crowdsourcing a manifesto. He could reach much wider audience.
Second Hour (with Lizetta Lyster from the Cabinet Office)
Should the CO’s resource be focussed on getting government departments to engage or working with civil society to widen engagement there? Lizetta feels focus needs to be on both sides. Feels there is a role for them to keep pushing and flagging, but broadening engagement is also key from their point of view.
On the government’s self-assessment, Cabinet Office looking for case studies on good engagement with CS on the NAP. Will be thinking about their level of engagement with CS generally. December/Jan will be the next progress update, which will support broader evaluation. Shape of evaluation yet to be confirmed.
Follow up with the minister after first draft of self-assessment?
IRM researcher will be circulating their plan for the assessment in the next few weeks.
CO interested in supporting the OG Manifesto project. CO are aware of it and will start to think about how to answer some of the issues submitted. Unclear how far they can promote.
For meeting with the minister next week:
- Thank him for recognition in last process of importance of open government principles applied to private as well as public organisations.
- Positive feedback on value of OGP for the extractives debate (UK OGP NAP commitment 9 re natural resource transparency has been v helpful esp re push for open & machine readable data)
- Positive feedback on anti-corruption action plan to come out in next few months
- Positive feedback on inclusion of beneficial ownership commitment
- Positive feedback on difference in engagement between first and second NAP.
- Need better engagement from departments on their progress on their commitments. Some departments have been better at this than others. Possible ask of Maude would be a write-round to departments setting out expectations.
- Need a proper timeline with at least 3 weeks advance notice about drafts of new documents coming out of government, to help civil society to be able to participate.
- The delivery – as well as development – of commitments should be as open as possible. Decisions on the detail of commitment delivery have often reverted back from open policy making.
- Following up on strengthening of the Lobbying Register (already in the OG Manifesto twice!)
- Clarity on the role of the Cabinet Office in the OG Manifesto, and in the devolved administrations? Neighbourhood social audits? A commitment from Maude to engagement and outreach in the meeting which we can hold him to account for.
- Raising retrograde steps happening in other countries, such as closing down civil society space. What kind of pressure can be applied to get them to improve? OGP has released policy on this recently, on the different sanctions they might apply. Ensuring UK is advocate for civil society in steering committee discussions of regression and sanctions.
- Ask the Conservatives to continue to commit to taking forward the commitments in the current NAP, as part of their manifesto.
- Ask network for more feedback on progress of NAP commitments.
Would you call on government to bring contractors under the Freedom of Information Act? Support and develop the UK Anti-Corruption Action Plan? Give the public a say in the future of the UK through a citizen-led Constitutional Convention? Develop an open and comprehensive register of lobbyists?
Today the UK Open Government Civil Society Network is launching a project to crowdsource an Open Government Manifesto. The ideas above are just a few of the contributions already put forward by civil society organisations to kick us off, and now we’re asking for you to add your own.
We know that elections can be a make or break moment for reforms, and momentum can be lost. May 2015 is approaching fast, so we’ve chosen to crowdsource an open government manifesto to focus attention on open government, and ensure there are a set of ideas ready and waiting for the new government to make their own.
The manifesto is linked to an international initiative called the Open Government Partnership. Every two years the UK government must work with civil society to develop an open government action plan. At the end of 2015 the UK will publish its next action plan. So, we’re calling on you to identify priorities for open government reform. What will you ask of government?
Click here to contribute a commitment to the Open Government Manifesto!
Join the twitter discussion at #OpenGovUK
You can read about the UK’s current commitments here and Open Government Partnership commitments from around the world here. You can read more on why we chose crowdsourcing as a tool here.