News 27th June 2013

20 June meeting with the Cabinet Office Transparency Team

by Tim Hughes

Tim is coordinator of the UK Open Government Network.

Introduction

On 20 June, a number of the UK OGP civil society network met with the Cabinet Office Transparency Team and then with Nick Hurd MP (Minister for Civil Society) to discuss the process of developing the UK’s second Open Government Partnership National Action Plan. This is a note of the meeting with the Cabinet Office. A note of the meeting with Nick Hurd MP will follow.

In attendance were: Pete Lawrence (Cabinet Office), Francesca Orpen (Cabinet Office), Lizetta Lyster (Cabinet Office), Melissa Lawson (Tearfund), Sam Barker (Tearfund), Simon Burall (Involve) and Tim Hughes (Involve).

Progress update

Francesca Orpen and Lizetta Lyster have recently joined the Cabinet Office Transparency Team and will be leading on the development of the action plan, overseen by Pete Lawrence – who has recently returned to the Cabinet Office after a secondment at Companies House. After a frustrating period for the civil society network with nobody in post at the Cabinet Office, Francesca and Lizetta have hit the ground running and there seems to be a genuine desire to build on what’s already happened and learn from past mistakes.

During the meeting the Transparency Team were open in admitting to the problems with the process of developing the action plan up to now – not least the delay in getting the draft published – and are keen to ensure that the problems are not repeated. The latest news is that the draft action plan will be published on 27 June. We emphasised at the meeting that getting the action plan out for consultation is extremely important, and this is something that the Cabinet Office team recognised themselves.

One of the consequences of the delay in publication is that the plan does not reflect the commitments made by the government at the recent G8 Summit. We agreed at the meeting that while this was far from ideal, the alternative of delaying publication of the draft plan at this stage to get agreements from departments for new wording in these areas was much worse. We therefore agreed that the draft plan will begin with a section recognising this and committing to developing these commitments further for the final action plan.

Further development of the plan

We discussed in the meeting the process for further developing the action plan between now and publication in October. It was agreed that considering limited capacity we should select and prioritise a few areas in which we focus attention on developing stretching commitments. There was consensus that we should focus effort where there’s potential for most traction, but not preclude other areas for ongoing development (perhaps with a longer timeframe).

To support this, the Cabinet Office Transparency Team will be facilitating meetings between relevant members of the network and government officials across the commitments in the draft plan (and beyond if new commitments are identified). The Transparency Team see their role as collaborating with the network, identifying new areas for commitments, facilitating engagement between relevant parts of civil society and business with relevant departments, and engaging with wider civil society. Over the coming weeks, the Francesca Orpen, Lizetta Lyster and Tim Hughes will be identifying the key individuals in government and the civil society network against each of the commitments, as well as looking to involve other networks and organisations in these discussions.

It was agreed that all meetings between members of the civil society network and government officials should be transparent and open to any interested individuals from civil society. It was suggested that they should all be listing on the civil society network blog, along with who is attending, and progress towards a commitment. Francesca has committed to produce weekly updates of progress on a Friday.

The Transparency Team has already begun meeting with other departments to map open government activity across government – in particular following up on progress against commitments in the Coalition Agreement. We suggested that this process could be done publicly.

Wider civil society engagement

It was discussed that engagement with wider civil society will include asking for sessions at and attending events already taking place, organising a few events around the country, using preexisting networks, using social media and eliciting comments on the draft action plan. It was discussed that events would be attended by a representative from government and from civil society, and that Nick Hurd MP (Minister for Civil Society) would be asked to attend to demonstrate the level of engagement from government. We discussed using infrastructure organisations, sector networks and faith groups to reach a greater variety of civil society organisations. It was suggested that wider civil society should be asked the following:

  • Is what government’s saying it will do enough?
  • What else could be thrown into the mix?
  • What would be the benefit to citizens?

The Transparency Team will also be seeking to engage with business on the contents of the action plan. It was suggested that consultation responses on the draft plan be analysed jointly by somebody from the civil society network and the Transparency Team.

There was some discussion of the need to write the final action plan in terms that make sense to members of the public – linking the commitments back to the difference it will make to peoples’ lives. It was suggested that the audience of the draft action plan is unclear.

Timeline

The timeline for the development of the final action plan is as follows:

  • Departments and Ministers will be asked to sign things off on a rolling basis as they’re developed.
  • A final version will need to be ready for 15th October for the OGP Support Unit. Formal Cabinet sign off will happen at same time.
  • Publication of the plan will be at the OGP Summit in London on 31 October.

That said, we discussed seeing the development of the action plan as an ongoing process, with publication in October 2013 not being the end of its development.

[This meeting note was produced based on notes taken at the meeting by Tim Hughes]

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