Thursday, September 15, 2016

Open Government: A dishonest assessment

Last night, I learned that the government had released its draft Final Self-Assessment Report on its First OGP National Action Plan. As usual for OGP issues, I learned about it second-hand, via a tweet from Engage2; there's been no official announcement from SSC, and at time of posting no mention of it whatsoever on SSC's official OGP page. Which is odd, given that the draft is supposed to being released for consultation. Again, you'd almost get the impression that SSC didn't want us to see or comment on this.

And reading the report, you can see why: there's absolutely no acknowledgement of the very real issues with the action plan revealed by the Independent Reporting Mechanism and no recognition of the failures in developing and implementing it. There's also ongoing confusion about what the OGP commitments actually are, particularly around the "Better Public Services" reporting and IT strategy refresh commitments. But I guess if they only reported against what they'd said in the published Action Plan, it would be a very short document indeed. They're also claiming to have completed commitment 3, responding to Transparency International's recommendations from their National Integrity System Assessment - on the basis of a report which hasn't yet been published, and only will be after the action plan has concluded. While I appreciate that they've actually, finally done the extremely weak thing they promised to do - and "responding" to a report with no commitment to actually implement any of its suggestions is a pretty weak commitment - claiming credit for doing it late is a definite "yeah, nah". As for the "Lessons learnt, next steps, [and] conclusion" section, this is it in its entirety:

New Zealand’s first action plan, covering 2014-16, contained commitments that were multi-faceted and delivered improvements in public services, increased public integrity, and more effectively managing public resources. There has been significant progress against the plan, and this reflects New Zealand’s ongoing commitment to the values inherent in OGP. However there remain many opportunities for improvement in the development and implementation of New Zealand’s second action plan.

Civil society and the IRM assessment noted clear scope to explore new initiatives as commitments, and to show measurable year-on-year advancements in meeting OGP’s ‘grand challenges’.

Expanding consultation using online technologies enables participation by those outside the main centres and those otherwise unable to have a dialogue with government.

Co-creating the commitments between government, civil society and the New Zealand public, will enable a broader range of voices to help shape New Zealand’s open government.

While there seems to be a recongition that things need to be done differently, it remains to be seen whether SSC has paid it anything more than lip-service in practice (and every indication that we were wasting our time engaging with them).

In short, its a dishonest assessment from a dishonest organisation. If we want to see the real story of how New Zealand has done with its first action plan, we'll just have to wait for the IRM's take on it at the end of the month.