Launched by the United Nations in November 2015, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, encompass an ambitious set of social, economic and environmental targets. Based on human rights, and unlike their predecessors the Millennium Development Goals, they apply universally, with developing and developed countries alike required to take action to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality and manage their impact on energy use and climate.
The Open Government Partnership is global platform launched at the United Nations in September 2011, designed to promote transparency, accountability and openness in all aspects of governance, including information and data, policy and decision-making. Uniquely, to participate, governments MUST partner on an equal basis with civil society. More than 70 countries have so far committed to its ambitious reform aims and it is increasingly being viewed as an important means by which countries will achieve their SDG targets.
Open government is critical to the pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals in a number of ways:
- Social justice - At the heart of pursuing the SDGs are fundamental issues of politics and power, which affect the prioritisation of outcomes and distribution of resources. The institutions that make these trade-offs must be open, responsive and accountable to citizens, particularly those who are typically excluded.
- Complex problems - It's widely recognised that complex outcomes, such as those outlined in the SDGs, require concerted action from a multiple actors, including governments and civil society to achieve. Governments must therefore partner with, and support, citizens and civil society towards the goals.
- Better outcomes - There is a growing body of evidence which reveals that good open government reforms result in better, more equitable decisions, improved public services, and better outcomes for citizens.
The UK government was one of the founding members of the Open Government Partnership. In response, civil society in the UK formed the UK Open Government Network to collaborate with and challenge the government to introduce robust and ambitious reforms. Since then, engagement with the OGP has broadened to the devolved nations, with civil society networks being formed in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and governments agreeing to contribute commitments towards a joint UK Open Government Action Plan. This presents a solid foundation on which to build towards open governance reform, and progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
In addition, in May 2016 Scotland was announced as one of 15 ‘sub-national’ governments and civil society partnerships worldwide to be part of a pioneer programme to take the principles of open government to levels of governance closer to citizen’s everyday interests. Alongside cities like Paris, France and San Paolo, Brazil, rural regions of Indonesia and Kenya, and states such as Ontario, Canada and Jalisco, Mexico, Scotland will have a prominent role in championing citizen participation, co-production of policy and services, and techniques such as participatory budgeting, which are designed to make government and public resources more responsive to people’s needs and interests.
This global pioneer status gives us a phenomenal and ground-breaking opportunity to lead the world in social change. In Scotland, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations is the lead civil society ‘point of contact’ for the pioneer programme and is being encouraged and supported by our sister organisations and open government civil society networks elsewhere in the UK and Ireland, to lead from the front in the ‘race to the top’ of global practice.