Monday, June 27, 2016

Open Government: Dismissing the stakeholders

In 2015, a year after joining the Open Government partnership, the government established a Stakeholder Advisory Group. According to its terms of reference, the purpose of the group was to

assist with the development, implementation and evaluation of the commitments in New Zealand's Action Plans by providing constructive advice, communicating openly and involving other stakeholders.

The Stakeholder Advisory Group was also important for compliance with our OGP obligations. According to SSC,
Establishment of the SAG also aligns with an OGP requirement for a forum that enables regular multi-stakeholder consultation on implementing the Action Plan. It will also address concerns expressed by stakeholders during development of the Action Plan about the OGP being about stakeholder participation, not just consultation.

According to my sources, SSC has recently sacked the SAG. It will apparently be replaced with a yet-to-be-detailed "external advisors group".

As for why, it appears to be because SSC no longer considers it necessary for stakeholders to participate in the development of open government policy (if they ever did), and no longer wants to hear from them. Back in February, the SAG were told to go away and "provide further feedback on the possible themes for the next Action Plan". They dutifully did this, and produced a variety of reports on draft OGP commitments, the OGP and the Treaty, and specific commitments around the review of the OIA. In the meantime, SSC had decided that they wanted to delay the action plan and use it as a propaganda exercise, so their response was "thanks, but no thanks":
The Deputy Commissioner thanked SAG members for their contributions. Given the need to conduct a wider enhanced engagement process, individual SAG input could be revisited following planned engagement with Civil Society and New Zealanders, and formulated as a part of a broader group of ideas for consideration by government.

It will be interesting to see how many of their proposals feature in whatever document SSC finally produces, but my guess is "none". SSC isn't interested in hearing from civil society about open government. And apparently that even extends to a bound and gagged "advisory group". They just want us to shut up and go away. This attitude is of course utterly inconsistent with the ethos of the Open Government Partnership. But it has been clear from the beginning that SSC has no commitment to that ethos at all, and simply regards our OGP membership as a burden foisted upon them, to be grudgingly and technically complied with and otherwise ignored as much as possible.