What: Meeting of civil society network
When: 16 May, 1200 t0 1500
Where: The Open Data Institute
On the afternoon of 16 May, members of the OGP civil society network will be meeting to discuss progress so far with the development of the draft action plan (still to be published by the Government) and the next steps of working towards the final action plan (to be published in October). This will include discussion of which commitments the network should prioritise, tactics for increasing the pressure on government to commit to open government policies, and how we can increase the membership of the network. Any representatives from civil society organisations are welcome/encouraged to attend. If you’re interested in learning more and/or would like to attend, please email me (email@example.com).
Tim Hughes – Involve
This was originally posted on the international Open Government Partnership blog: http://blog.opengovpartnership.org/2013/05/critical-components-for-engaging-civil-society-in-the-national-action-plan/
In two recent, companion posts on this site, Graham Gordon from the UK OGP Civil Society Network and Ilaria Miller from the Cabinet Office reflect on whether the process of drafting the UK’s second National Action Plan (NAP) has been worth it. Both, despite the challenges, agree that it has been. Ilaria finishes her post by saying:
I AM VERY PROUD OF HOW FAR WE HAVE COME, WE COULDN’T HAVE DONE IT WITHOUT OUR CIVIL SOCIETY PARTNERS AND WE WILL NEED THEM EVEN MORE GOING FORWARD.
What I want to do here is go into a little more detail about how the UK process has actually happened. And I think this is important because we have been engaged in a different kind of conversation about how to implement open government. In doing so we are piloting a different way of making policy. Along the way I will reflect on a number of the challenges that we have faced which haven’t been picked-up in either of the previous posts.
At its very simplest, the process for creating the draft NAP has seen a small network of civil society organisations meet with two Cabinet Office civil servants from the Transparency Team on a weekly basis. These weekly meetings are used to discuss, debate and build a better understanding of the key elements of Open Government which will need to be included within the NAP. More recently they have been used to discuss, edit and amend the draft text of the NAP.
There are 7 components to the process which I would identify as being critical to its success so far. We haven’t got all (any?) of them totally right yet. The simple descriptions hide a lot of nuance, but at their baldest they represent a good picture of why the process has worked so far.
1) Having a clear way of explaining how what we are doing is different: the UK’s first NAP was produced through a fairly standard consultation process; government defined the issue, asked the questions, heard the responses and drafted the plan. The second NAP is being drafted by the civil society network and civil servants working together for submission to Ministers. The civil society network and civil servants are attempting to co-produce the draft NAP for political sign-off. Government isn’t identifying the key questions and commitments, but neither is civil society. We are engaging together to do so.
2) Regular meetings, owned by both sides: the regular meetings have been critical for building the relationship and trust between government and civil society. They have been co-chaired by both sides, with the agenda being jointly developed. It is during these meetings in particular that government has been able to demonstrate that it is trying to draft this NAP in a very different way.
3) Being very clear who we are: this is particularly important for the civil society organisations involved. We do not represent civil society en masse (who could?). We don’t claim to be more than a very small number of civil society organisations who have the energy, enthusiasm and knowledge of relevant areas of open government to make a contribution. We don’t even claim to be the only organisations with enthusiasm and knowledge in the area. The civil society organisations understand that the Cabinet Office, which has been leading the process from the government side, does not represent the whole of government and cannot make commitments which fall within the jurisdiction of other government departments. This will mean considerable effort on the side of those most fully engaged with the NAP process to develop on-going relationships with the relevant ministries.
4) Attempting to reach-out: this is the one critical component I think we have done least well. The civil society network began as being largely, but not exclusively, made up of international development and governance NGOs, with a small smattering of people interested in open data. We have managed to draw in a few more organisations and individuals working in the UK at national and local level. However, we have not got beyond the process and governance geeks to draw in organisations interested directly in public outcomes rather than government process.
On the government side it has largely been the Cabinet Office which has engaged. Other departments have joined some meetings, but these have been largely one-off and they therefore don’t properly understand how the process is different and what value it brings.
The next phase of the NAP development will have to see us reaching out much more widely, particularly to civil society organisations working with local communities on issues that matter to them. We will also have to ensure that key government departments engage more deeply as the commitments are firmed up.
5) Keeping the process itself open and transparent: while those who are part of the network can’t and don’t represent civil society (and haven’t had the resources to reach out widely), we can make sure that the process is open and transparent. Through using a blog set-up for the purpose and actively posting details of the latest status of the NAP, when and where meetings are and on what topic, and publishing minutes very soon after each meeting, we hope to demonstrate that this is an open process and to draw others in.
6) Using a combination of face-to-face meetings, email lists, document sharing platforms and teleconferencing facilities: even with a small, largely London based set of civil society organisations taking part, people find it difficult to attend meetings. A combination of methods has been important for ensuring that everyone is kept aware of what is happening, and giving them many ways to participate and contribute.
7) Having dedicated coordinators: the open government agenda is far wider than the mandate of any one organisation. From the civil society side this has proved a particular problem as it means no-one can justify the staff time to coordinate meetings and civil society responses to developments in the process. It is a measure of how important they feel this is that they have funded my organisation Involve to coordinate the network and, from the civil society side, the process. It certainly feels from my perspective that we couldn’t have got as far as we have without this key resource.
As both Graham and Ilaria acknowledge, this is challenging. The NAP will make firm, time-bound commitments for what the government is going to do to open up government. Different political perspectives will mean that the government will not do everything that civil society wants to do. However, given the nature of the process, government feels the NAP is going much further in some areas than it would do alone.
For those close to the centre of the process (on both the government and civil society side) this feels fine, the levels of trust are relatively high. For those much more distantly connected to the process the same is not true. I suspect this is because, different as the process is trying to be, it still looks like a government consultation to anyone not following it closely. It is an indication of these challenges that the NAP, which was due to be published on 24th April, has not yet emerged from the government machine. It will do, government and civil society will continue to work towards a shared set of actions for open government, and the plan will be stronger as a result.
Simon Burall – Director, Involve
This was originally posted on the international Open Government Partnership blog: http://blog.opengovpartnership.org/2013/05/government-and-civil-society-joint-working-on-the-uk-action-plan-definitely-worth-it-2/
I have been involved in the OGP since its early beginnings and it has been a real privilege to witness the growth of a movement so exciting and ambitious.
The idea of making governments more open and transparent, because this benefits not just the citizens, but the government itself, is far more revolutionary than it may sound and it takes time and effort to let it sink in and make it happen.
The UK started this journey from a fairly advanced position. Transparency is one of this government’s key priorities. In the Cabinet Office, the Transparency Team was already working to develop a strategy with open data at its heart.
But the essence of the OGP is that to achieve “Open Government”, governments cannot work on their own and there is another voice entitled to speak out loudly: civil society. This is why the OGP is different and this is where the real challenge lies. And even when you think you’ve got it – understand what it means – you may find that it’s not quite like what you thought.
The UK government woke up to the extent of this challenge when a coalition of civil society organisations wrote a letter to ask for more effective engagement.
We asked civil society to sit down with us and work together to help us make a difference. We didn’t open the dialogue because we had to or to pretend inclusiveness, we did it because we knew how much added value policies have when they are developed through exchange of diverse ideas, contributions from experts and those who work on the ground.
But it’s not easy. It takes time. And it’s about setting expectations.
Governments need to become more ambitious and commitments should go above and beyond policies already in place.
However civil society also needs to understand that OGP is not about simply presenting a list of demands and expecting governments to meet them all at once. It is about genuine engagement and responding to opportunities; which policies need priority action and which ones could wait; pick the right battles worth fighting.
Governments and civil society need to come to terms with their different ways of working and establish an honest approach. Trust is key; pace needs balancing; government needs time to properly consider wider implications while civil society seeks immediate action.
And sometimes both sides are so focused on their specific issues that they forget the wider perspective. What are we ultimately trying to achieve? Is it just about national action plans?
The UK has hosted three days of OGP events in London last week. On the last evening I was enjoying the reception in the beautiful setting of Lancaster House, chatting and mingling and the answer was there: a room full of people from different countries and backgrounds, civil society and government officials, ministers and open data “geeks”. We were all there because we all have one thing in common: we believe in “open government” and in the positive results it can bring. This is extraordinary and it is the big change that drives all the other single achievements.
So yes, the UK Government has not yet been able to publish its draft plan as quickly as we hoped and yes, we have not met all civil society demands. Some we will meet, some we don’t know yet, others we probably never will. But if somebody asked me whether this process was worth it, I say “yes, it’s been great”.
Some people think we haven’t gone far enough, but: “how far is far enough?”. This is a journey and I am very proud of how far we have come. We couldn’t have done it without our civil society partners and we will need them even more going forward.
So I say: “think big, give time, acknowledge all achievements, don’t lose the trust and more results will come”.
Ilaria Miller – Transparency Team, Cabinet Office
This was originally posted on the international Open Government Partnership blog: http://blog.opengovpartnership.org/2013/04/civil-society-participation-in-drafting-the-uk-national-action-plan-has-it-been-worth-it/
Today the UK government planned to publish its first draft of the new National Action Plan for the Open Government Partnership. The aim was to coincide with the Steering Group Meeting in London and to show the progress made so far in developing commitments to be included in the final plan in October. Due to the internal clearing process for government policy, they haven’t been able to publish it as hoped, but the plan is for this to happen in the forthcoming weeks.
Developing this draft plan has been the product of a lengthy process of open policy making led by the Cabinet Office, with extensive involvement of civil society throughout. Tearfund, along with about thirty other organisations, has been heavily involved. So, 6 months later, I ask myself whether it has been worth it. Is this evidence of the UK becoming “the most open and transparent government in the world” as David Cameron committed to in 2010 after being elected Prime Minister? Or is it just a consultation exercise with little to show for it?
In terms of content, without doubt the second plan (latest draft seen last Friday) is streets ahead of the first one published two years ago. There is a much broader understanding of open government, which moves beyond an open data focus to include wider issues of transparency (such as tax transparency), citizen participation in policy-making and government accountability. With a section on global partnerships there is welcome recognition that the open government agenda goes beyond national borders to include, for example, an encouragement for other countries to pass laws for greater transparency in payments by extractive industries, or to work with other governments to reach the highest standards of budget transparency and citizen participation in the budget process.
Furthermore, the plan doesn’t shy away from tackling some thorny issues such as working with the UK’s Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories to support them in signing up to global anti-corruption conventions.
However, there are some worrying omissions. Commitments around Freedom of Information Legislation are not included because government and civil society are pulling in different directions. Commitments to opening up company registers to include requirements for transparency in beneficial ownership are weak and links between the OGP and G8 agendas haven’t really been made in a way that represents an emerging global agenda.
Civil society has put together a list of areas for future discussion and these are to be included in an annex. We will continue to push government to include commitments in these areas in the final plan.
As far as the process goes, there have been significant benefits. Cabinet Office colleagues have shown great personal commitment to the open policy-making process and have been responsive to many of the commitments civil society has asked to be included. The process has helped to build good working relationships as well a better understanding of the issues involved and government plans. Debates over Freedom of Information and more transparent data on companies are two areas where a frank and open discussion have led to greater clarity about what is needed, although as yet no further commitments to action.
Perhaps the greatest frustration has been the limited involvement across Whitehall as the open policy making process hasn’t penetrated all areas of government. This has meant that some commitments in the draft plan are vague and not as advanced as we had hoped and others as yet have no timescale attached. This clearly shows the need for greater cross-departmental coordination and engagement, a process which is time-consuming.
In terms of self reflection, one challenge for civil society has been to manage expectations of the process. As mentioned above, developing the action plan has the potential to bring together different departments and develop government policy, but this will not replace ongoing lobbying and policy discussions with the lead departments on each issue.
The next few months will be crucial to engage all relevant government departments and ensure that the final action plan includes specific commitments, responsibilities and a timescale for implementation, so that the UK government can really lead the way in open government.
Graham Gordon, Senior Policy Officer – Governance and Corruption, Tearfund
The UK OGP civil society network today submitted the following to the Government’s consultation on its self assessment against the UK’s 2011 open government action plan:
To whom it concerns,
Over the past few months civil society organisations that form part of the UK OGP Civil Society Network have been working with Cabinet Office colleagues in an open policy-making process to develop the commitments for the UK’s Second National Action Plan, to be published in time for the OGP Annual Conference at the end of October 2013. We have appreciated the commitment of colleagues, in particular Sophia Oliver, Ilaria Miller and lately Pete Lawrence.
During this process there has been widespread recognition by both civil society and government that the first action plan focused too much on open data and that going forward the vision of open government should be broadened to include not only open data, but a wider focus on transparency, participation and accountability. That is why the current version of the second action plan is divided into the three areas of open data and transparency, participation and accountability. There is also a fourth area around global partnerships, that seeks to develop commitments for how the UK government can work with others to build on best practice and support the highest standards of transparency, participation and accountability worldwide.
As one of the aims of the consultation on the first action plan is to “identify commitments that it will be important to keep in the next action plan”, we enclose the attached document (sent to the Cabinet Office team on March 20th as part of the ongoing consultative process), that includes many commitments that we think should be included, and that we are confident will also be in the draft action plan due to be published before the Steering Committee meeting on 22-24 April.
Coordinator, UK OGP Civil Society Network
Attached document: UK OGP interim action plan_20 March_Draft narrative
Over the past couple of weeks, through meetings at the Open Data Institute and collaboration online, we’ve been developing a narrative that links the open government commitments we’ve been discussing over the past five months, and presents a vision of open government driving both prosperity and democratic renewal. This draft interim plan includes commitments on open data and transparency; participation and responsiveness; accountability; and the UK’s role in global partnerships.
It has been developed through the active collaboration of experts in open data, transparency, participation and accountability from the civil society network and the Cabinet Office Transparency Team, with input along the way from other government officials.
It is important to note that the commitments within the interim plan have not yet been agreed to by ministers. In the next step of the process, the interim plan will be jointly submitted to Francis Maude for his comments and input. With his steer, we will then begin the process of seeking sign off for the commitments.
We’ll be posting the draft on this blog in the next few days. So watch this space!
The draft interim action plan submitted to the Cabinet Office can be found here: UK OGP interim action plan_20 March_Draft narrative
The Guardian has published a piece on the need for data integrity if open data is to improve government transparency, particularly in the developing world. The piece, written by Dr Anne Thurston, founder and director of the International Records Management Trust, calls on the UK government to encourage data integrity as part of its international transparency agenda.
The article can be found on the Guardian’s Public Leaders Network site:
For more information on the links between government transparency, data integrity, and trustworthy records, please visit: http://irmt.org/open-government-trustworthy-records-presentation
Where: The Open Data Institute
When: 15 February 2013
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.
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.
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.
Open government – based on transparency, participation and responsiveness – is needed to enable greater accountability and better use of resources for development. This has already been recognised in the UK Government’s Co-chair vision for the OGP, which has as its first objective to ‘Show that transparency and participation drive economic growth, well-being and prosperity through efficient use of resources, citizen engagement and inclusive development’.
This Thursday 14th February when members of different civil society organisations and cabinet office colleagues meet together to flesh out the UK’s overarching narrative for its own National Action Plan – to be ready in draft form in March/April. As I can’t be there, I wanted to (ab)use this medium to say that I hope that the same approach will be taken: with the three components of transparency, participation and responsiveness taken together and not in isolation; and where openness is seen as good in itself, but as needing to lead to results – concrete changes in people’s lives.
For transparency, the public must be provided with easy access to accurate, credible, high value information in a format that can be easily read and understood and compared across sectors, so as to ensure that key actors across the public, private and voluntary sectors can be held to account. This is especially important as much more information is available – and much more is to come – such as through the EU Accounting and Transparency Directives on payments by oil, gas and mining companies.
There must be ways of linking the information across sectors and at different levels. This will involve, for example information on natural resource revenues which can be ‘followed’ right down to community level and provision of high quality healthcare, roads and education. It will also include information on key contacts, concessions and procurement processes, so that citizens can participate in decisions before they happen (and not just know what has happened to them!).
Transparency needs to remain linked with enhanced citizen participation as a way of building trust and seeking new ways of policy making and accountability. There must be clear mechanisms of public participation that are open to a wide range of actors, which include civil society but other groups, such as media and business. There is much that can be learned from the successes and struggles of existing multi-stakeholder initiatives, such as the EITI and CoST, as well as open policy-making initiatives, such participatory budgeting and development as popularised in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
With increased access to government information and open data, civil society organisations, media, informal networks, business and individual citizens all have new and expanded roles to play in holding government to account and developing more effective and responsive policy with government. This requires resources and capacity building to strengthen oversight institutions and ‘info-mediaries’ who can interpret complex information for different audiences.
Finally, open government is only possible when there is government commitment and capacity to respond to the suggestions and demands of the process. Capacity will involve strong and effective oversight institutions such as parliaments and audit institutions, and commitment will be shown through government responses to suggestions and complaints and will involve new and more open ways of operating for national and local government departments. The Cabinet Office has recently embarked on new ways of participative policy-making through the way that the OGP Co-chair Vision and the UK National Action Plan have been developed jointly between civil society and government. This has been exciting to be part of.
Over the next few weeks there are plans to broaden this to other areas of government as different civil society groups meet with civil servants from the Treasury, Home Office, DFID, BIS etc to develop practical policy recommendations together. The draft UK Action Plan to be ready in March/April will be evidence of how well this has worked!
Graham Gordon, Senior Policy Adviser, Tearfund
The Association of Commonwealth Universities, the International Records Management Trust and the Alliance for Permanent Access are holding a workshop on accessing and preserving credible data (details below). Please contact Anthea Seles (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Polly North (email@example.com) if you would like to attend.