Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Open Government: A flood of ideas

The SSC and Engage2 are currently conducting public consultation on New Zealand's second Open Government partnership national action plan. As part of this, Engage2 is collecting public suggestions for commitments through its co-creation site. While it had a slow start, the site has really taken off, with over 50 commitments now proposed. Not all of these are particularly focused on open government, some need development, and a lot of the recent ones are wooly and bureaucratic, but there's some good ideas in there. There's also some clear favourites: increased whistleblower protections, regulation of lobbyists (also here), improved OIA compliance, improved proactive release of official information and increased funding for the Ombudsman.

These themes will be turned into proper commitments at a co-creation workshop on Friday (which I sadly won't be able to attend). And somewhere in there, the government will have to choose which (if any) of them to adopt and advance as formal commitments. And that's the problem area. Because its clear that some of these proposals require serious political commitment to open government, and in particular to transparency and accountability, the aspects which directly threaten politicians. Its also clear that the National government does not share these values, and isn't particularly interested in advancing them.

It needs to. Not just because its the right thing to do, but also because the success or failure of our participation in the OGP will be judged on whether it adopts these commitments. The public and civil society have engaged in good faith with this process, and made it clear what we want. And if the government then pisses in our faces and ignores those demands, it will make a clear that the entire thing was a sham from the outset. More generally, if the payoff from engaging in this way is so low, then people will stop doing it. That might suit the government, but the cost of that will be surrendering any pretence of consent for its OGP policies (not to mention being kicked out of the OGP).

New Zealand is supposed to be a leader in open government. We've made it clear what we think that means. Its the governments job now to rise to the challenge.