Open Government Partnership UK

Securing open government commitments from political parties | Meeting note

15th November 2014, 12:00 to 14:00
33 Corsham Street, London, N1 6DR and remotely

Attendees

Anthony Zacharzewski, Democratic Society
Claire Schouten, International Budget Partnership
David Newman, e-consultation.org
Ellen Broad, Open Data Institute
Josephine Suherman-Bailey, Involve
Louise King, Save the Children
Prateek Buch, Sense About Science
Simon Burall, Involve
Tim Hughes, Involve (Chair)
Vince Braithwaite, PublicMedia Projects

Summary

  • The Government is conducting its self assessment of the current National Action Plan. Complete the survey they’ve distributed if you were involved in that action plan or are interested in any of the commitments.
  • The Open Government Manifesto has been up and running for a month and a half, and we’ve collected 17 ideas for commitments so far. We’ll be doing a big push on it in the New Year, with meetings around the country. Please contribute your ideas to the manifesto.
  • We’re collecting short profiles of members of the network. Please contribute yours by completing this short survey.
  • We agreed that the election poses a threat to the momentum of the open government movement and that the network needs to plan for a new government by engaging with the political parties in the run up to the election in May 2015
  • We need to strike the balance between asking the parties to make concrete commitments the network can hold them to account for, and asking the parties to make high level commitments to open government to increase the likelihood they will adopt them.
  • We agreed that asking the parties to commit to the OGP, engaging with civil society and carrying on with the current commitments strikes the right balance.
  • As we know in coalition negotiations commitments can slide if they’re not in all partners’ manifestos, we agreed we need to engage with all parties.
  • While there is little cost to disseminate a statement to all, inviting politicians to roundtables, speaking to individuals etc, will have to be more targeted due to time and resources.
  • There was support for the idea of writing a statement that all orgs in the network can be signatories of.
  • If possible, we agreed that a hustings with open government movers and shakers in all parties to encourage a ‘race to the top’ was a good idea.
  • We need to emphasise how much this has an impact on peoples’ lives and what open government can deliver.

Update on current activities

The Government is conducting its self assessment of the current National Action Plan. Please complete the survey they’ve distributed if you were involved in that action plan or are interested in any of the commitments. 

The Open Government Manifesto has been up and running for a month and a half, and we’ve collected 17 ideas for commitments so far. We’ll be doing a big push on it in the New Year, with meetings around the country. Please contribute your ideas for commitments to the manifesto. 

Please contribute to the call for profiles on how open government has been useful to their organisation and their work. Fill out the quick and easy Google form here and read more on why we’re calling for profiles here.

Engaging political parties with open government

Why?

It’s important to get buy-in from political parties before the election to keep up momentum on the OGP. The UK’s next action plan will be due 6 months later, so we need to be able to hit the ground running on 8th May.

Other civil society’s experience of a changing government leading to a loss of momentum and even risk of loss of support. It’s important to think about how loss of momentum may impact internationally as UK is a leader.

There is a sense of nervousness that there will be loss of momentum since this govt and the last govt has done lots on open govt. A good strategy may therefore be to focus on the parties.

Parties respond to public perception. Eg on expenses they responded but now it’s blown over somewhat they’re ‘hiding things again’. How to encourage public pressure.

OGP is quite personality led, so building into manifesto and getting shadow/potential minister on board important.

Getting a champion in each party is a strong strategy.

What?

Because it will probably be a coalition the parties are reticent to make concrete commitments. So we should go for high level commitment to open gov and committing to the network, OGP and NAP.

If you ask for a broad statement they will make it. But then it will slip down the priority list. Tie high level commitments to something more concrete. The point is they could do and say they’ve fulfilled their commitments.

Should we ask for a commitment to carrying on the current list of 21 commitments? Most will be done but a few will still be going.

Ask in general terms for govt to commit to carrying commitments on.

Needs to be a minimum viable commitment so more likely to be agreed to in a coalition

General commitment to open by default? 

What are the criticisms which could be directed at OGP and openness, which the parties may be alert to? 

Openness as a principle not politically contentious. Its from a bureaucratic and commercial point of view where the difficulties lie.

Good to know what criticisms could be as this could dictate your strategy.

Need to make sure part of the what is that wider casting, beyond open data.

Do we start to tie together existing manifestos from members of the network?

All orgs involved in network could have a united ask for broad commitment. Then specific orgs could push more detailed campaigning asks.

Policy makers want to know you’re not a lone voice. If you can do that more effectively by getting them to sign up to this high level commitment you might be more successful.

Conscious that what we’re doing needs to add value to what others are doing and not be in competition.

How?

Needs to be done very quickly! Something ready for early January. There is still 5 months to engage key people. What work should we be doing outside manifestos? Asking for statements over and above manifestos.

There’s a distinction between manifesto and public campaign messages. We want to contact policy people

Need to speak to backroom people drafting manifestos. SpAds. Want to speak to politicians but also those drafting, probably more important to engage!

Do we want to do this as a statement of the network or individually? Not either or, but is that something we want to do quickly.

Time is a factor, need to move quickly. However lots of orgs have long sign off periods so might be easier to work individually.

Who should we target? Labour and Conservatives or extend to Lib Dems, Greens, UKIP?

We know in coalition negotiations things slide if they’re not in all partners’ manifestos. So we need to focus on all parties. Makes it harder.

DUP, SNP and Plaid may all be in play too if it’s a very messy election.

Don’t forget devolved nations’ govts and local govt. They will also be making decisions on open government.

Resourcing that is a question 

Little cost to disseminate statement. Inviting them to roundtables, speaking to individuals, might have to be more targeted due to time and resources.

What about open government hustings idea?

Experience of previous campaign hustings. Race to the top was the idea. But the difference here is that you need anger. People were angry about the policy area. Don’t know that’s the case with open govt.

We can fill the room with campaign people. Public facing makes it trickier.

When would we be able to put this hustings together? Is the date important? By that point it will be too late for the manifestos. We’re wanting senior people in party to go on public record. We want statements to follow up on and hold them to after election. Will this hustings be attractive? Where are the votes?

The key politicians do care about this agenda without thinking of votes.

Does it need to be real life? What about a webinar? How about the political blogs? If we’re not convinced the senior politicians will be around, this might be a way to make it stick and keep talking about it.

If you do it before the last few weeks before election and give lots of notice it will be easier. also lots of current campaign messages can be linked to open data.

I like idea of using party fora. Understanding how to pitch with other parties. How do they see role of open government? 

Stalls at spring conferences? To be able to speak to the politicians.

Digital Government review drafters – check whether any events coming up. 

In terms of our engagement with the parties, organisations have been having the conversation for some time now. It might be difficult to raise new issues now. Would be useful to write a statement that we can sign up to, but can’t lead or be proactive. 

How long is sign off process for big orgs? 

Early in new year. Sign off won’t take more than a week. 

Could be quite quick, unless completely leftfield.

If you’re trying to make something stick, having voices they won’t have heard from and making them think twice, policy makers will be hearing from the big orgs (usual suspects), but bringing in grassroots orgs can make policy makers think twice. Can put things in a way that wonks can’t!

Need to emphasise how much this has an impact on peoples’ lives and what open gov can deliver. Public interest.

Coverage of Maude’s speech, interesting as first time I could see what you can use it for. Need to make sure that focus is on value!

Open government in action: calling for profiles

Does your organisation have a story to tell on the impact of open government on your work and on the lives of citizens? What does open government mean and why is it important?

Open government can be quite a broad and abstract concept. In simple terms it’s the idea that institutions work better for citizens when they are transparent, engaging and accountable. It challenges institutions and democracies to transform themselves and their relationship with citizens. But what does this mean in practice?

In practice open government could be anything from bringing contractors under the Freedom of Information Act, to a citizen-led Constitutional Convention on the future of the UK, to developing an open and comprehensive register of lobbyists – all real suggestions for reforms lifted from the Open Government Manifesto.

We’re thinking about different ways we can make open government less abstract an idea. We want to give people in the Open Government Civil Society network (and beyond) a firmer sense of what open government looks like and how it can bring value.

We hit on the idea of putting together profiles of organisations in the network with a story to tell on the impact of open government on their work. This will also be a way for those in the network to get a sense of what’s going on and who else is also working in this area.

We will then write up these profiles and publish them on the Open Government Civil Society Network blog.

So if your organisation has a story to tell on the impact of open government on your work, please fill out our quick and easy Google form! We’re looking for thoughts on the following questions:

  • What does open government mean to you?
  • Why is open government important?
  • Can you give an example of where you have seen open government make a difference to the lives of citizens?
  • What one reform would you ask of government to achieve open government?

We’d love to hear from you! Fill out the Google form here.

Feel free to contact josephine [at] involve.org.uk with any questions.

Meeting with Francis Maude | 4th November 2014

Introduction

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.

Attendees

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

Cabinet Office

Francis Maude
Paul Maltby
Kitty von Bertele
Lizetta Lyster

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.

Next steps

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.

AOB 

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.

Whitehall Monitor 2014 | How transparent is the UK Government?

The Institute for Government has just published the findings of it’s Whitehall Monitor, which reviews the size, shape and performance of Whitehall: http://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/IFG%20-%20Whitehall%20Monitor%202014.pdf

Among the findings are indicators of how transparent government is. Headline findings on this are:

  • “Government has improved the way it publishes and uses some of its data over the past year, including top-level financial data and objectives for permanent secretaries.”
  • “A lack of financial transparency in some areas makes it difficult to explain changes between planned spending and actual outturn, and to present a comprehensive picture of government contracting”
  • “Some datasets are missing a large amount of information (for example, on civil servants’ individual professions)”
  • “The actions and impact indicators contained in Departmental Business Plans (which should allow the public to track the progress of actions and reforms, and their impact in the real world) are of limited use and not always taken seriously by departments.”
  • DECC is most transparent about it’s spending plans, with Cabinet Office, HMRC and Treasury joint last.
  • The Wales Office, followed by Department of Health and Department for Transport are best at responding to information requests, while the Home Office is the worst.

Follow #WhitehallMonitor on Twitter for updates from tonight’s launch.