Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Open Government: Round-filed

Back in May, the government quietly "announced" (in their usual beware-of-the-leopard way) that it was delaying submission of its Open Government Partnership second national action plan in order to "allow time for wider engagement with New Zealanders and civil society organisations". As part of this process, it invited submissions fro the public on how to engage:

We would welcome any ideas that you have for how the Government can enhance its engagement with civil society and reach a wider group of New Zealanders to get their views on open government.

We welcome your contributions. Please email us at NZOGP_ActionPlan@ssc.govt.nz by 31 May 2016.

We will consider the contributions we receive in developing the engagement method and plan. All contributions will be considered and a summary will be produced and published on this website.

So how many submissions did they receive, and what happened to them? I was curious, so I submitted an urgent OIA request asking for copies of the submissions and all advice and communications that had resulted from them. The response was depressing:
  • SSC received four submissions on the engagement process, all from private individuals. Civil society organisations, a core part of the OGP and the other party to the partnership, did not submit on the engagement process.
  • SSC released only one submission - mine - while withholding the others on privacy grounds. This is unusual; its normal practice for submissions of this nature to be made public as a matter of course. But they did release a summary, which showed that submitters were critical of SSC's progress so far.
  • No advice or communications resulted from these submissions - so, no formal summary of submissions or key themes, and no summary for the website as promised, not even a single email commenting on low interest or the absence of input from NGOs. Its as if they just threw them in the rubbish-bin the moment they were received. However, SSC claims that "input from the public has informed aspects of the revised engagement and consultation process that is now underway" - without a shred of documentary evidence to support that claim.
None of which bodes well for the current engagement process. At the moment people are submitting on the national action plan background and themes, and soon we'll hopefully have a chance to actually suggest commitments. People are submitting in good faith - but from this, we have no reason to believe that SSC will consider the submissions, or even look at them before burying them in a hole.