Friday, August 19, 2016

Open Government: As little as possible

The SSC and Engage2 are currently conducting public consultation on New Zealand's second Open Government partnership national action plan. Engage2 is busy collecting suggestions for commitments through its co-creation site, and running workshops to gather more. But the timeline doesn't include any time to properly develop those proposals into actual policies, and the suspicion is that at the end of the "consultation" all the public proposals will be round-filed and the actual action plan will consist of whatever ambitionless bureaucratic pap SSC has been developing in the background. There's been some hints about SSC's hidden agenda in previous OIA releases, but thanks to an OIA I received back today, we now have a better picture.

I had asked SSC for agendas, papers and minutes of both its newly appointed-in-secret Expert Advisory Panel, and its OGP Officials Working Group. Surprisingly, they released them urgently. As expected, they show that SSC is keen to use the OGP to push its Big Brother "social investment" agenda (in which all the private information the government holds on you, from tax records to whether you've ever had an abortion, is thrown together in a pile so that it can be mined for random correlations in order to find better ways to cut services). But they also suggest some other possible commitments:

Very obviously, this is the expected ambitionless bureaucratic crap - and the absence of any commitments around the OIA (even the low-hanging fruit of implementing the Law Commission's recommendations) is glaring. Charitably, they're trying to push participation, but if you look at the public proposals, they're very strongly focused on transparency and accountability, with strong support for greater regulation for lobbyists, improved whistleblower laws, and improved OIA compliance. SSC's agenda is completely out of touch with what civil society wants.

There's also a lack of ambition. SSC is looking for "a focused set of five to seven commitments". The OGP meanwhile recommends "that each action plan contain between 5 and 15 ambitious commitments" [my emphasis]. SSC is clearly aiming for the lower end, both in number and ambition. In other words, they're looking to do as little as possible, and treating the OGP as a matter of technical compliance rather than a "race to the top". Again.