News 26th February 2013

Developing a narrative for the action plan

by Tim Hughes

Tim is coordinator of the UK Open Government Network.

Where: The Open Data Institute

When: 15 February 2013

Introduction

On Thursday, 15 February, the UK Open Government Partnership civil society network and Cabinet Office Transparency team met to discuss a narrative for the UK’s open government action plan.

A number of working groups are currently working on developing particular commitments for the action plan, having discussed the priority areas for the action plan over the past few months.

Developing a narrative for the action plan

In previous meetings we have discussed the importance of developing a coherent and joined up open government narrative. The Open Government Partnership provides the opportunity and impetus for this.

The narrative of the action plan can be reasonably detailed, presenting a story of why open government is important and how the commitments fit together.

The group discussed the need to consider where we want the action plan to have traction, identifying international, national and local tiers as all being important.

It was agreed that the narrative needed to set out how open government helps to tackle real world issues for citizens. However, it was commented that we do not currently have a shared problem statement. Developing this would be a first step towards developing a narrative for open government. One example of this type of narrative, suggested in the meeting, was along the lines that in order to fight corruption and crime, the best way is to make governments accountable, and best way to do that is to make them open. It was agreed that a problem statement would be useful for national, regional and local tiers.

It was commented that the narrative should be about how open government is going to improve the lives of people and how government commitments can lead to that, but the former should be before the latter. It was also suggested that as well as setting out what government will do, the plan could set out what civil society will do.

Linked to the discussion of a problem statement was a discussion of the OGP’s theory of change. It was suggested that, crudely put, this was that by providing citizens with information they can hold their governments to account. Added to this was that through government being more open, citizens can take action by themselves. Another participant commented that the OGP is generically about improving the relationship between citizen and state.

It was highlighted that the action plan narrative would need to have a strong open data element, as this is where ministerial interests lie, but with other participation and citizenship agendas linked in.

It was highlighted that Graham Gordon’s blog post provided a good basis for a narrative. It was also suggested that ONE’s narrative for the G8, with it’s focus on linking resources to results, could also form the basis for a good narrative for the action plan. It was agreed that this narrative is intuitive and compelling, and will likely appeal to government ministers.

There was some discussion of the three categories articulated by Graham Gordon in his blog post: transparency, participation and responsiveness. It was felt that these were a better way to structure the narrative than the sections included in the working document on the priority areas. However, there was some concern that the sections would not be particularly well balanced in terms of the number of commitments and there was debate about whether responsiveness is an outcome, as well as or rather than a mechanism.

It was commented that there is an opportunity to experiment and be creative with the structure of the action plan. This might involve including boxes outlining questions and areas of contention, and it was suggested that a plenary session might be held at the OGP annual meeting to have discussions around these topics. This could include a discussion about whether the process of developing the action plan is/was genuinely participative and how it could be made to be more so.

Using local and international examples to demonstrate the impact of certain mechanisms and as a challenge to national government was suggested.

Actions

It was agreed that everybody at the meeting should write a two-sentence narrative by the end of the following day and that the rest of the network would be invited to do so too.

Sophia Oliver and Ilaria Miller agreed to write a first draft of the narrative, which will be shared with the wider group for input and discussed at the next meeting (28 February).

Engaging with government ministers

The issue of whether the civil society network should nominate a representative to meet with Francis Maude was discussed. This has been discussed in the past, but the network has been reluctant for fear of establishing a gatekeeper between the network and the Minister. However, as was pointed out at the meeting, nobody from the network has yet met with Francis Maude; “nobody has got through the gate”.

Therefore, we agreed that it will be important to the success of the action plan that we identify a “heavy-hitter”, who Francis Maude respects and who will act as an advocate, keeping the process on his radar and supporting it at key points.

It was therefore agreed that the civil society network should look to appoint a representative who understands and can support the breadth of the action plan and the process underway to develop it (e.g. local, national and international; transparency and participation), who has a high profile, and will be able to work well with both the network and Maude.

In addition, it was mentioned that there is a possibility that Nick Hurd, Minister for Civil Society, will be able to attend a meeting of the group in the near future.

Other discussion

There was some discussion about the need to make open data user friendly, including through the use of visualisations and info-graphics. Linked to this, it was questioned whether a challenge prize could be set up to stimulate new initiatives on how to use open data.

Also linked to this was discussion about the importance of education. Firstly, it was commented that we should look at how the OGP could get picked up in citizenship education at school, linked to the idea of global citizenship, and that there’s an opportunity to use media that young people are already using.

Secondly, it was suggested that the Department for Education is contacted about what they’re doing on open data in schools. Ilaria Miller agreed to do this via the Cabinet Office’s DfE account manager. An example from Barnet, of students being taught to interpret open data, was identified as a starting point: http://www.standard.co.uk/news/education/pupils-taught-to-tackle-information-overload-7585152.html

It was also suggested that government might invest in ecosystems, such as the Raspberry Pi, which teach young people how to code.

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