Thursday, May 05, 2016

Open Government: How to engage

The other day we learned that the government had (secretly) decided to delay submission of its Open Government partnership action plan, and that it was consulting on how better to engage with civil society. Since then I've been wondering what to tell them, other than "not the same shit you did last time".

The core requirement of the OGP isn't "consultation", but co-creation. That reflects the OGP's nature as a partnership - not just between states, but between states and their societies. Co-creation means not just that we're consulted, but that we have a real voice in the decision, that our voices are taken seriously. In practice, it means civil society being able to say which of the OGP's five "grand challenges" they want the government to focus on, and to suggest policies as possible commitments, and have these suggestions taken seriously. Which is a complete cultural shift from SSC's insular, top-down way of thinking.

As for how to do this, there's some good examples overseas. Romania, Australia, the UK. The core of each of these processes was multiple rounds of wiki-based engagement, coupled with workshops and public meetings to develop both preferred themes and specific commitments. SSC should adopt that model.

A core problem is a lack of time: SSC has started late, and even with the self-granted "extension", will have only 4-5 months to do multiple rounds of consultation, produce advice on which proposals are feasible, and gain political signoff from the government. That's a tight timeline, and in order to meet it SSC will have to involve other government agencies from the very beginning, and get them to prioritise the work. A senior Minister who made this a priority could do that. But one who isn't interested won't. So I guess we've got to hope that SSC's sudden change of timeline reflects some Ministerial interest, rather than merely being a desperate attempt to hide the fact that they haven't done the work they were supposed to.