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Background and opportunity

From Open Government Pioneer Project


The Open Government Pioneers Project has been set up 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).

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), in partnership with the Wales Council for Voluntary Organisations (WCVA), Involve, and Northern Ireland Environment Link, has been awarded a £500k Big Lottery Fund grant to work together over two years to support people to engage and challenge their governments to serve them better. There will be a particular focus in supporting people who are not normally heard in the decisions that affect them, and the connection between citizens and devolved governments of the UK home nations.

The project is formally linked to the international Open Government Partnership, where governments and civil society have been given an equal say in the commitments made by 70 countries to be more open. It will use open government commitments to help people secure progress towards the SDGs to eradicate poverty, tackle inequality and sustain natural resources at home and abroad.

Why the project exists

We should live in a place where people can satisfy their basic needs and enjoy a good quality of life without compromising future generations to come. Unfortunately, this is simply not a reality in the UK today. From low wages and a lack of housing to food insecurity and poor health, we are a long way from being the society we would like to be.

Background to Sustainable Development Goals

Launched by the United Nations in November 2015, the 2030 Agenda – made up of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – moves us a step closer to that society we want to be. Encompassing ambitious social, economic and environmental targets, these goals require all UN members to take action to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality and manage their environmental impact. 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.   

In the UK, the 2030 Agenda provides an important framework to achieve social, economic and environmental change. In pursuit of the SDGs, governments in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will be adapting the goals and targets to our national contexts, prioritising outcomes and the distribution of resources.

The ambition of the Open Government Pioneers Project is for the institutions that make these trade-offs to be open, responsive and accountable to citizens – particularly those who are typically excluded – to make sure our pursuit of the Global Goals responds to the needs of people and communities, in particular those most in need.

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.

How the project will work

We will focus on our core belief, that everyone should have the opportunity to take part in the decisions that will shape their future. To put it simply, we want to see people have more of a say in the issues that matter to them. We want to see that nobody gets left behind.

In doing so, we will use the UK’s membership in the Open Government Partnership, and Scotland’s new status as a pioneer for open government, as a mechanism for promoting and securing dialogue and debate between people, communities and government in the pursuit of the Global Goals.

The Open Government Partnership is a global platform launched in 2011 to promote transparency, accountability and openness in all aspects of government. In May 2016, Scotland – alongside cities like Paris and San Paolo and states including Ontario and Jalisco – was announced as one of 15 ‘sub-national’ governments and civil society partnerships worldwide to be part of a pioneer programme of open government.

This gives Scotland a prominent role at the devolved level 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 development takes the principles of open government to levels of governance closer to citizen’s everyday interests.

What the project will do

Our approach will be multi-channelled and collaborative, working with different audiences in building a network of people and organisations to support opening up the process through which government works towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

In doing so, we hope to remove the barriers and structures that prevent a conversation between government and people from taking place. We will do so by:

  • Building confidence, awareness and solidarity between people on challenging and engaging their governments
  • Raising Interest, awareness and understanding of how a more open government approach can improve the operating environment for organisations and the people they support.
  • Supporting a cultural change within government towards more open government approaches in building a better society

By promoting the principles of accountability, participation and openness, the process by which the UK and devolved nations pursue the 2030 Agenda will become more manageable and effective with people and communities better understanding the choices that affect them and feeling more control over those that are made

How to get involved

This site is a collaborative space for the Open Government communities in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Here we will develop shared proposals and ideas for strengthening civil society's influence on opening up governments at the UK's devolved nation levels to progress towards sustainable development goals

You can immediately start working on developing this wiki, whenever you want (no wiki experience required). No need to register or sign in, unless you want your ideas to be attributed to you. We want you to directly shape these plans by adding your ideas and content to this Wiki. It will be the basis for our approach to funding partners and other supporters, and become the programme of activity for the project.

Please be bold and use this site to write in your ideas on the following:

How to get involved with others:

  • Join the Open Government UK community with its forums for each nation, and details of meet ups and events.
  • Dig directly into local meetup opportunities or start your own with our support at our page
  • See Miraheze FAQ if you want to get more technical with this Wiki.

Dig in to the Action plans for each nation:

  • Contribute to the Scotland action plan - UPDATED!
  • Contribute to the Northern Ireland actions
  • Contribute to the Wales actions
  • Contribute to the England/UK plan

Who is behind this site?

This project is being led by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Northern Ireland Environment Link, Wales Council for Voluntary Action and Involve UK.

The site has been set up by Ruchir Shah and Paul Bradley, Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations. Email us at [email protected]

Find out more about the core partners, how they are funded to deliver this project and the governance arrangements for this initiative.

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