Friday, March 18, 2016

Open Government: Another mock "consultation"

Two years ago, when the government was developing its first National Action Plan for the Open Government Partnership, it engaged in a mockery of consultation, designed purely to "show to the OGP that they had done 'some' consultation". The public were "consulted" on a decisions that had already been made, and the OGP principle of co-creation with civil society went out the window.

According to documents just released on the State Services Commission's website, they're planning to repeat that process.

First, there's a draft high-level timeline for the action plan development process. This shows a "consultation and engagement process" beginning next month and running until late May - but also shows that the submissions will be analysed and the draft document submitted to the OGP before the process even finishes:


So, if you take their submission deadlines at face value, sorry, your submission will be ignored.

Secondly, rather than co-creating with civil society as the OGP requires, SSC has already decided what will be in the action plan. They have a list of themes, which were decided at their meeting in December. While the Better Public Services bullshit has gone - it had to after the OGP Independent Reporting Mechanism recommended it - it is essentially the same mush, focusing on open data, a "citizen centric public service" and consultation on social inclusion, all of which are existing policies rather than new commitments. One particularly threatening possibility is the inclusion of the Data Futures Forum, the government's project to increase "social licence" for mass privacy invasion through "big data" and linking government databases. This seems to have nothing to do with the OGP's principles of transparency, accountability, and participation (and using technology to achieve those aims); instead it seems they went "its to do with government data, throw it on the pile". Meanwhile, the strong preference for new, tangible commitments on the OIA and transparency have been relegated to an afterthought. Which tells us how much SSC's promises that our feedback would see change in the second action plan are worth.

In its Midterm Self-Assessment Report, the government promised that it would learn from its past mistakes, engage earlier, consult better, and that the new action plan would be more ambitious. None of that was true. Instead, we're just getting the same old shit of predetermined decisions and fake "consultation" justified by (self-imposed) tight timelines. And if this is what SSC means by "open government", then I think that civil society is better off refusing to participate in the process (and making sure the OGP knows that), rather than legitimising it with our participation.