OGN Papers 7th September 2015

Terms of Reference of the UK Open Government Network

1. Introduction

The UK Open Government Civil Society Network (OGN) is a coalition of individuals and organisations committed to making government work better for people through transparency, participation and accountability.

This document sets out the OGN’s terms of reference, as agreed on 7 September 2015.

These terms of reference will be reviewed once every two years, instigated by the OGN’s Steering Committee.

2. Purpose

The OGN was formed in response to the UK government joining the global Open Government Partnership, and with a focus on engaging with the development and review of the UK’s Open Government National Action Plan

The OGN works to mobilise and coordinate civil society advocacy for government and other public institutions to work better through transparency, participation and accountability.

The OGN’s has a primary focus on the development and implementation of ambitious open government reforms through the UK’s membership of the Open Government Partnership. The OGN combines a collaborative approach as key stakeholders in the National Action Plan process, with a role challenging and holding government to account for ambition and delivery.

In addition, the OGN works to support greater collaboration across the UK on open government reforms and be a network from which new or existing projects that share the OGN’s aims can draw.

3. Membership

Membership of the UK Open Government Network is open to any individual or civil society organisation, on the condition that they:

  1. Endorse the Open Government Declaration (see annex A)
  2. Abide by the Open Government Network’s principles
  3. Have no conflicts of interest. Conflicts of interest include, but are not limited to being:
  • a government minister or shadow minister
  • a political advisor working with government ministers or shadow ministers
  • a government official working on open government policy
  • a corporate lobbyist (e.g. an individual lobbying for a private interest, potentially in conflict with the Open Government Declaration or the OGN’s principles)
  1. Remain in good standing throughout their participation in OGN activities

Individuals join the OGN by signing up to the OpenGovUK list on the Open Government Forum. Membership of that list is taken as assent to and compliance with the above conditions.

Members of the OGN may choose to be associated with, and act as the representative of an organisation by indicating this on their OpenGovUK list profile and in their statements in network activities, but only insofar as the stated goals of that organisation are working towards the public (rather than private) interest and are compatible with the OGN’s principles.

Membership rights include being on the OpenGovUK mailing list, attending meetings, contributing to OGN’s work on OGP, and nominating members of the Steering Committee.

4. Principles

When taking part in the activities of the OGN, all members should abide by the Nolan principles of public life:

  1. Selflessness – Act solely in terms of the public interest.
  2. Integrity – Avoid placing yourself under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence you in your work. Do not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. Declare and resolve any interests and relationships.
  3. Objectivity – Act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.
  4. Accountability – Be accountable to the public for your decisions and actions and submit yourself to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.
  5. Openness – Take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.
  6. Honesty – Be truthful.
  7. Leadership – Exhibit these principles in your own behaviour. Actively promote and robustly support the principles and be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.

In addition:

  • Members of OGN may represent themselves as being part of the OGN, but cannot speak on its behalf
  • Members should engage constructively with the activities of the OGN

5. Steering Committee

The OGN’s Steering Committee has responsibility for:

  • Engaging with the relevant Minister and civil servants with responsibility for the OGP
  • Speaking on behalf of the OGN
  • Supporting and overseeing the work of the OGN Coordinator and ensuring the smooth running of the OGN
  • Expanding the membership and reach of the OGN
  • Where necessary, making decisions on behalf of the OGN (see section 7)

The Steering Committee will meet at least once every quarter.

The Steering Committee will be made up of no fewer than 5 and not more than 9 members drawn from the OGN’s membership. This must include:

  • At least one representative from each devolved/regional network (such networks should have an aim and terms of reference in line with the OGN)
  • A balance of individual citizens and representatives of civil society organisations of at least 1:4
  • A gender balance of at least 1:2

Half of the Steering Committee places will be put up for reselection every year. Incumbents may be reselected, but individuals may only sit for up to 4 years before being required to step down. An individual may subsequently be reselected following 2 years of not sitting.

When places on the Steering Committee become available, nominations will be sought from OGN members for new committee members.

An OGN member can nominate themselves or be nominated by another OGN member. Selection will be conducted through a ballot (Borda Count) of the OGN membership, administered via a suitable digital platform by the OGN coordinator. Nominees must declare any interests that may influence their representation of the OGN.

Steering Committee members have a particular responsibility to abide by and exhibit the OGN’s principles. Any member that does not abide by them can be required to step down by the Steering Committee by a ⅔ majority vote.

6. Coordinator

The OGN coordinator has responsibility for:

  • Administering and coordinating the OGN
  • Expanding the membership of the OGN
  • Engaging with the relevant government policy team with responsibility for the OGP
  • Publicising the work of the OGN

The coordinator is selected by and works on the behalf of the OGN. They should represent the interests of the OGN over those of their host organisation, if they have one. The coordinator has a particular responsibility to abide by and exhibit the OGN’s principles.

The coordinator role can be reviewed at the instigation of the Steering Committee. The appointment of a coordinator must be conducted in an open manner, through open nominations and a consensual process or ballot if necessary.

As the OGN is not itself a formally constituted organisation, the coordinator, with support from the Steering Committee and wider network, is responsible for securing the necessary funding to perform their role.

7. Decision Making

The OGN seeks to operate through a process of consensus decision making.

Any documents, public statements or positions adopted by the OGN should clearly describe the basis on which they are made.

Four main methods of decision making and public statement are proposed:

Network consensus

Where a text has been open for discussion by the network for at least two weeks, and the draft text itself has been posted to the network mailing list for not less than one week, with a clear statement to the effect that it is proposed as a network decision.

Consensus will be deemed to be reached in the event of (a) no objections or modifications to the text being suggested during that period; (b) all those who have raised objections or suggested modifications being satisfied that their views have been taken into account.

Network consensus should be used for any strategic decision making by the network.

Network signatures

Where a text has been put forward, and network members are invited to add their signatures to that statement, either as individuals, or on behalf of their organisations.

Texts of this form should be presented as coming from ‘Members of the Open Government Civil Society Network’.

This process can be combined with network consensus, to allow for a text to be presented as ‘A position of the Open Government Civil Society Network’

Where sub-groups are formed (e.g. for conversation with specific government departments), these groups should be clear that they are speaking as a group of members of the Network, and not on behalf of the Network, unless they have a mandate through a consensus process.

Steering Committee vote

If consensus is not possible due to timescales, the Steering Committee may make decisions on behalf of the Network by a vote, fully taking into account any and all available evidence as to the views of Network members.

Any such, Steering Committee decisions shall be communicated to the Network mailing list, and shall be communicated publicly as a statement of the ‘Steering Committee of the Open Government Civil Society Network’.

Wherever possible, the Steering Committee should bring issues to the network for consensus discussion.

Coordinator’s statement

The Coordinator of the network may make such operational day-to-day decisions as are required for their role.

The Coordinator can represent their actions as of ‘The Coordinator of the Open Government Civil Society Network’.

The Coordinator should be provide a regular report, no less than annually, to the full Network, on their activities.


Annex A: Open Government Declaration

September 2011

As members of the Open Government Partnership, committed to the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Convention against Corruption, and other applicable international instruments related to human rights and good governance:

We acknowledge that people all around the world are demanding more openness in government. They are calling for greater civic participation in public affairs, and seeking ways to make their governments more transparent, responsive, accountable, and effective.

We recognize that countries are at different stages in their efforts to promote openness in government, and that each of us pursues an approach consistent with our national priorities and circumstances and the aspirations of our citizens.

We accept responsibility for seizing this moment to strengthen our commitments to promote transparency, fight corruption, empower citizens, and harness the power of new technologies to make government more effective and accountable.

We uphold the value of openness in our engagement with citizens to improve services, manage public resources, promote innovation, and create safer communities. We embrace principles of transparency and open government with a view toward achieving greater prosperity, well-being, and human dignity in our own countries and in an increasingly interconnected world.

Together, we declare our commitment to:

Increase the availability of information about governmental activities.

Governments collect and hold information on behalf of people, and citizens have a right to seek information about governmental activities. We commit to promoting increased access to information and disclosure about governmental activities at every level of government. We commit to increasing our efforts to systematically collect and publish data on government spending and performance for essential public services and activities. We commit to pro-actively provide high-value information, including raw data, in a timely manner, in formats that the public can easily locate, understand and use, and in formats that facilitate reuse. We commit to providing access to effective remedies when information or the corresponding records are improperly withheld, including through effective oversight of the recourse process. We recognize the importance of open standards to promote civil society access to public data, as well as to facilitate the interoperability of government information systems. We commit to seeking feedback from the public to identify the information of greatest value to them, and pledge to take such feedback into account to the maximum extent possible.

Support civic participation.

We value public participation of all people, equally and without discrimination, in decision making and policy formulation. Public engagement, including the full participation of women, increases the effectiveness of governments, which benefit from people’s knowledge, ideas and ability to provide oversight. We commit to making policy formulation and decision making more transparent, creating and using channels to solicit public feedback, and deepening public participation in developing, monitoring and evaluating government activities. We commit to protecting the ability of not-for-profit and civil society organizations to operate in ways consistent with our commitment to freedom of expression, association, and opinion. We commit to creating mechanisms to enable greater collaboration between governments and civil society organizations and businesses.

Implement the highest standards of professional integrity throughout our administrations.

Accountable government requires high ethical standards and codes of conduct for public officials. We commit to having robust anti-corruption policies, mechanisms and practices, ensuring transparency in the management of public finances and government purchasing, and strengthening the rule of law. We commit to maintaining or establishing a legal framework to make public information on the income and assets of national, high ranking public officials. We commit to enacting and implementing rules that protect whistleblowers. We commit to making information regarding the activities and effectiveness of our corruption prevention and enforcement bodies, as well as the procedures for recourse to such bodies, available to the public, respecting the confidentiality of specific law enforcement information. We commit to increasing deterrents against bribery and other forms of corruption in the public and private sectors, as well as to sharing information and expertise.

Increase access to new technologies for openness and accountability.

New technologies offer opportunities for information sharing, public participation, and collaboration. We intend to harness these technologies to make more information public in ways that enable people to both understand what their governments do and to influence decisions. We commit to developing accessible and secure online spaces as platforms for delivering services, engaging the public, and sharing information and ideas. We recognize that equitable and affordable access to technology is a challenge, and commit to seeking increased online and mobile connectivity, while also identifying and promoting the use of alternative mechanisms for civic engagement. We commit to engaging civil society and the business community to identify effective practices and innovative approaches for leveraging new technologies to empower people and promote transparency in government. We also recognize that increasing access to technology entails supporting the ability of governments and citizens to use it. We commit to supporting and developing the use of technological innovations by government employees and citizens alike. We also understand that technology is a complement, not a substitute, for clear, useable, and useful information.

We acknowledge that open government is a process that requires ongoing and sustained commitment. We commit to reporting publicly on actions undertaken to realize these principles, to consulting with the public on their implementation, and to updating our commitments in light of new challenges and opportunities.

We pledge to lead by example and contribute to advancing open government in other countries by sharing best practices and expertise and by undertaking the commitments expressed in this declaration on a non-binding, voluntary basis. Our goal is to foster innovation and spur progress, and not to define standards to be used as a precondition for cooperation or assistance or to rank countries. We stress the importance to the promotion of openness of a comprehensive approach and the availability of technical assistance to support capacity- and institution-building.

We commit to espouse these principles in our international engagement, and work to foster a global culture of open government that empowers and delivers for citizens, and advances the ideals of open and participatory 21st century government.

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