What is Open Government?
Open government is the simple but powerful idea that governments and institutions work better for citizens when they are transparent, engaging and accountable.
Open government has three parts:
- Transparency – opening up of government data and information on areas such as public spending, government contracts, lobbying activity, the development and impact of policy, and public service performance.
- Participation – support for a strong and independent civil society, the involvement of citizens and other stakeholders in decision making processes, and protection for whistleblowers and others who highlight waste, negligence or corruption in government.
- Accountability – rules, laws and mechanisms that ensure government listens, learns, responds and changes when it needs to.
Good open government reforms can transform the way government and public services work, ensuring that they are properly responsive to citizens, while improving their efficiency and effectiveness, and preventing abuses of state power. The Open Government Partnership is an international initiative that provides a platform for reformers inside and outside governments around the world to develop reforms that “promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance”. Since its foundation in September 2011, over 2,000 commitments have been made by 65 participating countries, covering a third of the world’s population.
Many of the goals that open government advocates seek to progress are captured in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This was recognised by the OECD (2016). The Big Lottery funded Open Government Pioneers project runs across the four home nations. It aims to build the capacity of citizens and civil society across the United Kingdom to contribute and input to policy-making and service delivery in progressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Global developments for the Open Government Movement were discussed at the Paris #OGP16 Summit in December 2016.
A number of partners involved with the Open Government Pioneers project from the UK attended the Summit.
- Following the change in US presidency, the international OGP movement is looking for a new set of high-profile backers. Many are looking towards Justin Trudeau, Canada PM for support.
- The international OGP institutions and activists are seeking to understand how the shift to populism, division and anti-establishment sentiment of 2016 will reshape the context and purpose of open government approaches.
- There was a palpable split in the conference between delegates who were seeking to reposition OGP within the global political infrastructure, and those that were seeking to reconnect it with disenchanted citizens.
- There were two notable workshops that explored the link between OGP and SDGs. These focused on specific SDG case examples and how open government supported progress.
- Actions plans were launched by all 15 subnational pioneer areas governments within the OGP movement. There was a day workshop organised for the government and civil society partners for these areas.
- Read reflection blog by David McBurney, Northern Ireland: http://www.opengovernment.org.uk/2016/12/21/reflections-on-the-ogp-summit/
Across the UK
Based on consultation with national partners:
- Much government activity now takes place at the devolved / sub national level.
- OGP commitments in the UK to date has taken place at the UK nation state level - and have primarily focused on governance issues (i.e. SDG16 outcomes)
- Civil society is fragmented between, and overlaps across, the devolved nations and UK nation state level - we need better links between e.g. English civil society and Scottish civil society.
- There is an increasing interest in shifting power more directly to citizens over the way their country is runs, and analysis to back this up.
- However, there is not yet enough civil society interest in using the Global Goals to promote change in the UK. Only 30% of charities see SDGs as relevant to UK.
Nation by nation analysis
|Devolved nation||Government||Civil Society|
|Scotland||Scottish Government||Relatively early conversations. Some civil society networks. But nowhere near potential.|
|England||UK Government||Well developed civil society network, which has engaged with UK Government over past 4 years, but membership currently heavily weighted towards governance issues|
|Northern Ireland||Northern Ireland Executive||Well developed civil society network, initial investment from Building Change Trust (lottery)|
|Wales||Welsh Government||Very early conversations. Limited civil society network|
The Hansard Society undertakes an annual Audit of political engagement of British democracy. It notes age, gender, social class, and ethnicity gaps in who is prepared to engaged or is satisfied with opportunities to engage with the political system.
The Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2015: Attitudes to Social Networks, Civic Participation and Co-production revealed that 96% of Scots want to see local people involved in the design and delivery of public services. It also found that around a third of Scots have volunteered at a local community group
Drawing on the work of democratic theorists, and a deliberative systems approach to examine the state of UK democracy, Involve have come to the conclusion in their report, Room for a View  that, "If the health of UK democracy is to be improved, we need to move away from thinking about the representation of individual voters to thinking about the representation of views, perspectives and narratives."
The Coalition of Carers in Scotland have scoped carer representative involvement in Scottish Integrated Joint Health and Social Care Boards. Their report Equal-Expert-and-Valued provides voices from carers on how best to engage excluded groups based on a human rights approach.
Learning from developments abroad
|Mexico City||Mexico City is crowdsourcing its new constitution via Change.org and PubPub|
|Mexico||Mexico Budget Portal||Opengov guide|
|Various||Open Government Guide - Country examples|
|Reykjavik, Iceland||Better Reykjavik||Nesta article|
|United States||Challenge.gov US. Government website that crowdsources public solutions to policy problems|
- Invest in scaling up activity at the devolved nation level to match government activity
- Invest in sharing learning and what works between devolved UK national partners
- Invest in sharing learning and what works between UK nations and the pioneers movements in other countries
Theory of change
Open Government is fast becoming the most powerful route for civil society to support citizens that want to hold their governments to account for progress against the agreed Sustainable Development Goals.
- SDGs are ambitious but cannot be delivered meaningfully without an open approach to government
- But it is not enough to open up government processes, we also need to invest in capacity building on the citizen participation side
- A more meaningful and effective engagement of citizens in their government requires deliberation and interaction between citizens, not just between citizens and their governments
- Open digital platforms offer a powerful channel for mobilising open government approaches to sustainable development goals
- Sustainable Development Goals and changing the way we think about economy. Read and contribute to SDGs and the economy.
Civil society capacity building
It's not enough for government to become more open and transparent.
Citizens and the civil society groups through which they self-organise or participate need to make best use of this. This needs to be supported, nurtured and actively developed. A powerful approach to do this draws on the Asset Based Community Development theory.
The Coady Institute propose the following activities to build on the asset based approach to strengthening civil society:
• Collecting stories about community successes and identifying the capacities of communities that
• Organizing a core group to carry the process forward
• Mapping completely the capacities and assets of individuals, associations, and local institutions
• Building relationships among local assets for mutually beneficial problem-solving within the
• Mobilizing the community's assets fully for economic development and information sharing
• Convening as broadly representative group as possible for the purposes of building a community
• Leveraging activities, investments and resources from outside the community to support asset based development
What will change for people, communities and organisations?
By building capacity to engage open government approaches towards progressing Sustainable Development Goals, we anticipate the following impact:
|What will change?||What gaps will this fill?||How will this strengthen existing channels||What's additional to what government does anyway|
|Citizens and communities||Confidence, awareness and solidarity between citizens on challenging and engaging their governments||Citizens sometimes lack awareness of the range of networks through which to channel their interest in participating more in government. People end up speaking to people they already agree with.||Strengthen links between networks. Those networks that exist are often disconnected from each other. People speak to people they already know.|
|NGOs and charities||Interest, awareness and understanding of how a more open government approach can improve the operating environment for organisations and the people they support.||Currently, NGOs and charities are simply not aware of the opportunities that an open government approach could offer to bring progress to their core missions, because many haven't yet made the links between their causes and the Sustainable Development Goals.||Many NGOs and charities already network through intermediary organisations. This provides a ready channel through which interest, awareness and solidarity can be mobilised.||Government currently picks organisations it is aware of for consultation purposes. With more organisations putting themselves forward, and more open channels, a better organised civil society partnership with government can be developed.|
|Government||Cultural change within government towards more open government approaches, as more and more open gov champions within government feel they are getting external support to change the internal culture towards sustainable development goals.||Interest within government around open government is currently patchy and thematic. Individual departments do not see the bigger picture around how say open data, open contracting and anti-corruption can be reinforced by focusing on citizens.|
- OGP and Brexit meeting UK 
- Citizenshift, The New Citizenship Project
- From clients to citizens. Coady International Institute 
- Research report by Koreo Dec 2016 http://www.koreo.co/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Koreo-Connecting-with-Impact-Final-Draft.pdf
- Audit of Political Engagement, Hansard Society 
- Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2015: Attitudes to Social Networks, Civic Participation and Co-production, Scottish Government 2016 
- Room for a View, Involve 2016 
- World Resources Institute: OGP and SDGs 
- World Economic Forum 
- OECD, Open Government, The Global Context and the Way Forward