Points of View 11th May 2015

Faces of the UK Open Government Network – Andy Williamson, Democratise

by Josephine Suherman-Bailey

Josephine is a Policy Analyst at Involve. She works on the Open Government Partnership and supports the coordination of the UK Open Government Partnership civil society network.

Open government can be an abstract idea. We want to give people a better idea of what it is, and who is in the UK Open Government Civil Society Network. We’ve asked some existing members of the network to give us their thoughts on what open government means to them, why it’s important, where they have seen open government make a difference to the lives of citizens, and the reforms they would ask of government.

We’ll be publishing a series of profiles of members of the network every few weeks, so keep a lookout! Our seventh blog is Andy Williamson, Democratise

Andy Williamson, Democratise

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Trust in government is low. Lower than ever. Our faith in the systems that govern us is failing (less than a quarter of us in the UK believe in our system of government). I don’t think there’s a giant conspiracy to protect democracy from the masses, more that the system has just got so complicated and opaque that most of us don’t have a clue what’s going on. Democracy is broken, no longer fit for purpose. As I said in my recent book, democracy has become arrogant and controlling and this isn’t acceptable. We need to turn things around, becoming open, accessible and participatory by default. Democracy as an intimate, co-productive ecosystem. Open government is one of the places where we can start.

Open government is no panacea, the opening up of government is still occurring on ‘their’ terms not ‘ours’. Despite committing on the one-hand to openness and transparency in public services, this is being side-stepped by outsourcing and privatisation on the other. The focus too has been on open data but what use is open data without the tools and – more importantly – the skills to do something with it? We risk simply creating a new digital elite and that is wrong too. We have to focus as much on digital and information literacy, access and empowerment as we do on formats for publishing the data in the first place.

So, even where there is good intent in government (and I believe there is), we still have a long way to go. The 2015 party manifestos show that our political representatives still don’t quite understand the critical importance of open government and transparency as cornerstones of democratic renewal.

We need to do more to make the processes and the data not just open, not simply accessible but able to be used effectively by citizens for citizens. That’s why it’s imperative that civil society has a strong voice around open government. Government are not the experts at this game, we all are. We all are because this is about the decisions, laws, services and regulations that affect our lives.

Dr Andy Williamson is the Founder of Democratise and DemocracySpace, a Governor of the Democratic Society and the Chair of Do It UK.

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