Open government is the simple but powerful idea that governments and institutions work better for citizens when they are transparent, engaging and accountable.
The Open Government Partnership is an international initiative, bringing together over 65 countries, which aims to create a ‘race to the top’ in open government.
Participating countries produce National Action Plans every two years outlining their commitments to reform. The UK was a founder member in 2011 and will publish its third National Action Plan in January 2016.
OGP National Action Plans must be informed by civil society. This Manifesto, based on a ten month project to source the best open government ideas from citizens and civil society across the UK, puts forward key proposals for the new plan.
Members of the Open Government Network call for government in the UK to:
Read summaries of the proposed commitments below.
Commit to implementing the current Anti-Corruption Plan, and updating and developing the Anti-Corruption Action Plan.
Corruption is one of the biggest global issues of our time. The Anti-Corruption Plan sets out how the Government will fight corruption in the public and private sectors in the UK and overseas, and how it will ensure the coordination needed between departments in order to effectively tackle the problem.
Require UK-listed extractive companies to provide open data; work for EU-wide extractives commodity and other payments disclosure; extend disclosure to AIM; and influence the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies to require disclosure.
UK leadership has contributed to significant progress in making the world’s extractive (oil, gas and mining) industries more financially transparent and accountable, but reporting gaps and weaknesses remain in the UK, EU and international disclosure regimes.
Ensure that all companies that own property or participate in delivering government obligations to provide public, goods, services and infrastructure will disclose who controls and benefits from their business decisions as open data.
Corruption and criminal activity thrives under conditions of secrecy. Investments in the UK can hide the proceeds of illegal activity such as money laundering, bribery and embezzlement.
Reform the statutory register of lobbyists so that it provides meaningful information about the scale and nature of lobbying in the UK.
Despite recent reforms, there is still very little transparency about the scale and nature of lobbying activities in the UK and little disincentive to prevent corrupting behaviour by lobbyists.
Citizen participation is a critical element of open government, which unpins many of the other aspects of openness by providing the vital link between transparency and accountability. In an increasingly complex world, citizens’ input is a critical resource for policy-making, with good decision-making requiring the knowledge, experiences, views and values of the public. The following commitments would help make citizen participation in government policy making more effective and meaningful.
Develop process and tools for more effective consultation practices.
The principle that those affected by decisions should be given the opportunity to shape those decisions is central to open government. Outside periodically voting for elected representatives, citizens must be offered opportunities to provide their input into key policy decisions that affect them.
Explore and practice open policy-making and share learning
Policy makers need to develop and trial a range of different approaches to open policy making and citizen engagement to understand what works best and when. As citizen engagement is a continuously developing field, with new evidence of benefits and limitations of different techniques in different settings emerging on an ongoing basis, continued exploration needs to take place to understand the tools and opportunities available for national and local governments to hear from a wider range of citizens.
How a government collects and spends money is fundamental to the impact it has on society. To ensure that government is serving them effectively, citizens must be able to scrutinise and influence budget processes. The following commitments would open up budgets to citizens, and help ensure the fair and effective use of public money.
Increase transparency, public participation and accountability in the budget process at all levels domestically and internationally.
A lack of transparency and public participation in the budget process at all levels means the system is not as accountable as it could be and public funds in the UK and abroad are not used as effectively as they could be.
Ensure all UK tax incentives/reliefs are annually costed and subject to periodic review to ensure they serve their purpose and provide value for money.
Currently the UK undertakes a cost benefit analysis of tax incentives and reliefs prior to adoption, but does not systematically undertake continuous monitoring once passed into law. This is a problem as there is general agreement among economists that tax incentives have the potential to be harmful, and as such should be treated with caution and subject to close monitoring, yet this is not happening.
Contracting has become a significant tool for government in delivering services to citizens. To ensure the effective use of public resources and good public services for citizens, it is essential that transparency, participation and accountability follow public money into any organisation delivering public contracts. The following commitments would ensure that outsourced services are delivered efficiently and effectively, and that public money is well spent.
Fully implement the Open Contracting Partnership’s Global Principles and Data Standard across government.
Contracting is an increasingly important means of delivering public services. A lack of openness in contracting means there is a lack of accountability for public funds, and missed opportunities for greater citizen control over those services. A lack of oversight of contracting information also means government doesn’t understand its supply chain as well as it could, missing the opportunity to make procurement and use of public resources more efficient, and to reduce government exposure to supply chain risks.
Ensure a common set of information is disclosed by contractors supplying government.
It is difficult to track the delivery of contracted out public services: for example, to identify who work was ultimately subcontracted to, or who the beneficial owners of companies funds flow to are.
Increase the opportunities for citizens to be involved in planning, tender and oversight processes
There are few structured opportunities in the UK for citizens to participate in contracting: either in the planning for procurement, or in assessing whether goods and services delivered were of a high enough quality.
Data has become an increasingly important resource for understanding society and government in the twenty-first century, and developing new and more responsive services for citizens. The following commitments would help government, civil society, and business better realise the value of public data for citizens.
Publish a plan and mechanism to compel the publication or creation, of core data assets that make up the UK’s NII.
Land valuations, geospatial data and address data are just some data assets that have the capacity for immense economic and social impact. The UK government needs to take concrete action to create a strong data infrastructure for people inside and outside government to build on. The creation and maintenance of core data assets, along with organisations to operate and oversee those assets, will ensure that data use and value is maximised.
Establish a formal mechanism for open data users to communicate with Government and help to deliver the UK’s open data NAP commitments.
The UK government needs to commit to the creation of a formal mechanism to ensure user perspectives are a part of government open data policy making. The current lack of representation for data users will limit the government’s understanding of user needs for open data.
Require the use of open data in decision making processes and actively encourage data use by citizens and service users for participation and accountability
Open data is an invaluable mechanism to enable greater transparency of government – how it works, how much things cost and where processes could be more efficient. However, at the moment many departments do not make full use of their own data to improve their decision making processes, nor do they always encourage civil society and citizens to use the data to participate and hold the government accountable.
Good evidence is critical to effective decision making in any organisation. It is within the rights of elected decision makers not to accept particular evidence, but this should be done transparently and honestly, with an explanation of why. Citizens should be able to scrutinise how those taking decisions on their behalf are using (and misusing) evidence in order to be able to hold them to account. The following commitments would help ensure that the evidence base for policy is well understood.
Ensure the open and timely publication of government research, through a standardised public register of all commissioned studies.
The public cannot easily see whether research conducted or commissioned by government has been published.
Each government department and agency should provide a single point of contact for public requests for evidence related to departmental policy.
Government departments and agencies do not provide a clearly identified contact that the public can request evidence from. This will increase civic participation, is beneficial to public understanding, will increase public access to information and increase accountability.
Introduce an evidence transparency standard that shows how government has considered evidence in policy formulation and evaluation.
Citizens are unable to access the evidence behind government policy formulation and evaluation. If government is to be held properly to account for its decisions and actions, citizens need to be able to understand the way government has used evidence in making its decision and be able to access it readily.
Access to information is fundamental to open government. It embeds the right of citizens to understand the decisions that are taken on their behalf, and helps to support good governance, effective and efficient public administration, compliance with laws and regulations, and efforts to combat corruption. The following commitments would help ensure that citizens can ask questions and access information on any issue that matters to them.
The Freedom of Information Act should be protected and its scope widened to achieve comprehensive coverage of public sector bodies and the companies they part own.
Freedom of Information is the foundation stone of open government which allows citizens to ask questions, and receive information, on the issues that matter to them. However, Freedom of Information does not currently apply to all public bodies, and often important information is inaccessible from bodies providing public services on the behalf of government.
Ensure a holistic approach to the management of government information of all kinds so as to facilitate openness now and in the future.
Accountability requires access to information with integrity. Technical standards for information integrity exist, but must be applied consistently across government if openness initiatives are to be meaningful. In an increasingly digital environment, information integrity entails capturing and managing information from creation onwards, through interoperable systems and mechanisms. More needs to be done to develop an information management environment within government that enables information integrity and openness.
As greater powers and responsibilities are devolved from national government, local governments and public services have an increasingly significant role within the lives of citizens. Lots of innovative open government practice already exists within local government, but there is opportunity to develop and spread it further and wider. The following commitments would help ensure that all levels of government are responsive and accountable to citizens.
Work with local authorities and civil society to scope out and develop an local open government partnership.
Pockets of good open government practice already exist in local government across the country, but they are scattered and often restricted to specific projects or small teams and departments. There is currently no mechanism or incentive for spreading existing or supporting new innovations in openness in local government. By adopting an Open Government Partnership model, open government practice can be developed and spread across local government.
Include local governance and engagement frameworks as part of devolution deals.
The speed of devolution, among other factors, means not all local/ combined authorities are sufficiently considering how to engage the public and overcome these challenges.
Open government is not just about the executive; it must apply to all public institutions that impact on the lives of citizens. Parliament and courts are two such institutions that require scrutiny by citizens and civil society to ensure they operate fairly and effectively. The following commitments would help citizens to better understand and influence the workings of Parliament and the courts.
All parliamentary data should be freely available for the public to download and/or re-use.
Parliamentary data is inconsistently available or not available at all in an open format, which reduces opportunities for civic participation and public accountability.
Open up parliaments/assemblies so more people can contribute.
Those who take part in the parliamentary process shape the future, but all too often this is a narrow subset of the population. Digital tools allows our legislatures to step out beyond the chamber or committee room in new ways, whether it’s taking the parliament out to the people or allowing people to come to parliament through new digital channels. This is about strengthening democratic participation and rebuilding trust as much as it is about enhancing public accountability.
Formally adopt The Declaration of Parliamentary Openness, an international declaration which sets out 44 principles for advancing parliamentary openness. This will promote a culture of openness, make parliamentary information transparent, ease access to parliamentary information and enable electronic communication of parliamentary information.
A commitment to openness and transparency is a way to hold the parliament/assembly to account for its actions (or non-actions) and acts as a lever to educate and inform parliaments as to the value of openness.
Open data of the daily case flow schedule and outcomes of their courts and tribunals
Courts are the basis of justice, and justice must be seen to be done. The current court process is opaque.
Ensuring the privacy of individuals is critical to ensuring that citizens and civil society feel able to hold government to account. The use of personal information by government must be governed by clear rules that achieve broad public understanding and support, and with mechanisms through which individuals can find out how their information is being used. The following commitments would help give citizens more oversight of how their privacy is or is not being respected.
Provide a complete Data Release Register, listing all data flows of individual level in/between departments and other public bodies and why, readable by the public.
There is no transparency on how and where Departments share individual level data as part of sharing of bulk personal datasets.
Provide all citizens with a report on how their individual level data has been used by government services.
No citizen currently knows how Government has used their data.
Increase the transparency of surveillance activities to improve accountability and secure public trust.
At all levels of government, surveillance tools are used without giving the public adequate information about the surveillance in place, the benefits it brings, and the rights of citizens with respect to it.
OGP National Action Plans should set out specific, measurable and time bound commitments, published in a common format. Detailed versions of the above proposals, in the OGP commitment template, can be read and downloaded here.