News 27th February 2016

Strengthening the Open Government Network in Scotland

by Kaela Scott

On the 17th February Involve, the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) and the Scottish Government held an Open Government workshop at The Gathering 2016 – Scotland’s largest annual Third Sector event.

Opening this year’s Gathering First Minister Nicola Sturgeon spoke about the Scottish Government’s commitment to Open Government, and stated that the Open Government Action Plan will be a way to set out ‘how the Scottish Government intends to involve people in the reform of public services and how [they] will seek to improve access to information and data.’ She also emphasised that working in partnership with civil society to develop the commitments in the Action Plan was ‘one of the ways [the Scottish Government] are seeking to bring government closer to people across Scotland.’

Open lock - Jisc and Matt LincolnSince 2012 Involve has been coordinating the UK wide Open Government Civil Society Network, and part of this role has included supporting the establishment of local networks in each of the devolved nations. To date work on developing Scotland’s contributions to the UK Open Government Action Plan, due for submission to the international Open Government Partnership in June 2016, has been led by the SCVO, working with the Scottish Government and a small group of civil society partners. This workshop however was designed to give a wider range of third sector groups an opportunity to comment on the commitments included in the draft plan and begin to actively engage with shaping its future direction… and it sparked some lively conversations.

Some of the issues raised included the desire to:

  • Continue, and build upon, open policy making processes like the Fairer Scotland initiative which allow communities to be part of setting the policy agenda from the outset;
  • Promote a culture change that enables public servants to start from a position of ‘open by default’ regarding the information they share with civil society – meaning that information is only withheld after a conscious assessment of the need to do so;
  • Ensure greater transparency in procurement processes, particularly regarding contract awards;
  • Establish greater consistency in the information published by local and national governments to allow for comparisons between areas and across services;
  • Employ more open formats when data is published by the public sector (i.e. editable spreadsheets rather than in pdf formats) so that it can be more readily used by others;
  • Review how and why data is collected to ensure it is useful, alongside making it easier for civil society groups to influence the types of information collected and published by services to help better inform their own work; and
  • Improve individual and institutional understandings regarding who ‘owns’ personal data, why it is being collected and what uses it can be put to.

But the workshop wasn’t simply about seeking comments on the draft plan, it was also about kick-starting the growth of a wider civil society Open Government Network in Scotland. To this end we were very pleased that Dr Jonathon Bell, co-ordinator of the Northern Ireland Open Government Network was able to join us on the day. Speaking about the way the Northern Ireland network has developed (view his presentation) he described the impact they have had, as well as some of the challenges they have faced, he gave us a lot to consider as we move forward.

Most importantly however he reminded us all that the role of the network did not end with the publication of the Action Plan. Instead a strong civil society network has an important ongoing role to play in collaborating with government (and at times applying pressure) to ensure the commitments made in the plan are delivered in ways that will have real impact on opening up government policy and decision making in.

To get involved in the Scottish Open Government Network sign-up to the online forum. Here you can read and comment on the draft Scottish Action Plan throughout March and stay informed of future network activities. Alternatively you can find out more at http://www.opengovernment.org.uk/ or contact Kaela Scott, Involve’s Engagement Lead in Scotland (Kaela@involve.org.uk, 0131 281 0891) or Ruchir Shah, SCVO Policy Manager (Ruchir.Shah@SCVO.org.uk, 0131 474 6158).

 

Photo: Open lock by Jisc and Matt Lincoln CC BY-NC-ND

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