Background and opportunity

From Open Government Pioneer Project

Background to Sustainable Development Goals

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.   

Yet very little is happening in Scotland to localise the SDGs – to make a high-minded global framework deeply relevant at the local level. Although they are an important tool, these goals can only be effective if all citizens are able to see their own lives recast by how pursuing these might work, and that they have had a say over how we reach the desired outcomes.   

Background to Open Government

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, and public service delivery. 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.   

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 UK 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.


  • The Project, running through to December 2018, focuses not only on the Open Government engagement in Scotland but also building engagement around the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.
  • These are two significant global agendas in their own right, but the project looks to take advantage of the developing OG infrastructure in Scotland to help achieve progress towards these goals in Scotland.
  • From the other side, it also looks to take advantage of the Sustainable Development Goals as a framework for having those discussions about a more open government with different audiences.
  • At present, there is very little domestic leadership of the SDG agenda in Scotland. As well as working with key partners to develop the OG Network in Scotland, this project is currently working with a different audience to build similar energy and momentum behind SDGs.
  • Real opportunity exists with both agendas as we're not starting from scratch. Whilst the term open government is one not widely used across civil society, many elements of it – participation, budget processes, participatory budgeting – are. An initial network is in place and we will support the development of this.
  • Likewise, SDGs are mentioned by only a small cohort of civil society, but the significant links this agenda provides with the learning of citizenship within the curriculum and the initial support from Government is positive – domestic leadership is now vital to ensure SDGs receive the attention they deserve.
  • Key to engaging with the wider civil society network about Open Government will be how we communicate the importance of the network, future actions plans etc. to the daily work, objectives and values of different organisations. We don’t begin with open government – we start with what matters to them (homelessness, environment, health, education, poverty etc.)
  • SDGs give us the framework to create a communications plan on OG for civil society – one size won't fit all. We cannot take a uniform approach to explaining why the OG agenda matters to Scotland’s civil society – but we must take a consistent one.
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