News 25th October 2012

Cabinet Office and Civil Society Network meeting – 25 Oct 2012

by Tim Hughes


Simon Burall (Chair; Involve), Andrew Parsons (Public Concern at Work), Anthea Seles (International Records Management Trust), Ilaria Miller (Cabinet Office), Maurice Frankel (Campaign for Freedom of Information), Melissa Lawson (Tearfund), Sophia Oliver (Cabinet Office), Tim Hughes (Involve)

Catch up

Members of the civil society network reported on the process and outcomes of the 11 October network meeting. A draft of the civil society vision for the OGP produced as a result of that meeting was shared with the Cabinet Office with the caveat that it is still under development. It was noted that it would be useful to make a distinction between the points relevant to the UK’s co-chair vision and those relevant to the next National Action Plan (NAP). The draft will also need to reflect the collaborative working relationship between the Government and civil society network.

The Cabinet Office encouraged civil society to comment on the UK co-chair vision, published in September. This could become the topic for a future “brown bag lunch”.

Feedback on the 17 October Reform and Cabinet Office event – “The Future is Open” – was on the whole positive. Francis Maude’s commitment to transparency and his plea for civil society to “hold government’s feet to the fire” was commended. However, the civil society network would like to see a broader focus for the UK agenda, including elements such as participation and corporate transparency. There is also a need to identify new compelling case studies and best practice stories, around open data and the effects of transparency, to strengthen the message and keep the momentum.

Working together

Francis Maude announced at “The Future is Open” conference that the UK’s next National Action Plan will be developed in partnership with civil society. We discussed how this shared development could work in practice.

It was acknowledged that there are two sets of boundaries that civil society needs to be clear about: process and content. Once these are clear, organisations can decide if and how they want to engage.

The current intention is that the process will be one of Open Policy Making – as advocated in the Civil Service Reform plan. Both partners (i.e. government and civil society) will be able to offer ideas and solutions that will go to ministers for their approval. The Cabinet Office will facilitate the inclusion of civil society proposals or advice alongside its own policy advice. Both partners will be responsible for developing and making the case for the inclusion of particular policies.

It was agreed that there is a need to get early buy-in from ministers regarding the scope of the next NAP. The Cabinet Office and civil society network will therefore work together to develop a proposal to Francis Maude. This process will begin at the first brown bag lunch being hosted at the Open Data Institute on Thursday, 1 November. The Open Data Institute (ODI) has given availability of its premises on Thursdays of every week. This will include the free use of desks and WI-FI and meeting rooms for (brown bag) lunch time meetings.

In order for the process to work, clear milestones and spaces in which conversations can happen will need to be developed and it will be the responsibility of all those involved directly in its development to engage others in the process. The Cabinet Office will bring other departments and ministers into the process to help develop ownership of policies and understanding of where boundaries lie.

The new UK NAP will be the result of a joint working, but it will also be the document that will hold the UK Government to account on delivery of its commitments, therefore ultimate responsibility for sign off will rest with the Minister for the Cabinet Office. While this was agreed to be important and appropriate, members of the civil society network noted that in the event that key recommendations from civil society are not signed off by the Minister, tensions will arise regarding the extent to which the NAP is a joint action plan.

Milestones and timeline

Self assessment: End January 2013

All OGP Governments must produce a self-assessment against the commitments in their National Action Plan. The Cabinet Office is planning to publish the UK Government’s self assessment by the end of January 2013. The Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM), currently developing guidance for countries on how to produce their assessments, will produce their independent report based in part on the country’s self assessment and in part on interviews with civil society organisations.

The Cabinet Office is open to make the UK’s self assessment as participative as possible. Civil society organisations will need to determine whether this is a priority, considering they will have involvement at the IRM assessment stage.

It was noted that involvement of civil society in the self assessment process would be good for the UK to take leadership on, but the question arises whether this is demonstrated now or build it into future processes.

New National Action Plan: March or September/October 2013

The new UK Country Action Plan should be developed for publication in 2013 and include a number of new commitments.

With regards to the publication date, two options were discussed:

1. Publication in March 2013: this would coincide with the high level OGP meeting in London and with the publication of OGP plans by the new governments.

The advantage of this date would be that the new plan would follow pretty quickly after the self assessment of the previous plan and show a strong desire to move on with new challenges. The disadvantages would be that the new plan should demonstrate having taken on board any recommendations/conclusions from the IRM report, and it is extremely unlikely that this will have been published by that date, and engagement beyond those already involved would be limited.

2. Publication in September/October 2013: this would coincide with the OGP Annual Conference in London and therefore a more prestigious opportunity to showcase the new Plan. The advantage is that by this date, the new Plan will have been developed taking into account the IRM recommendations. This date would also be in line with original discussions with the UK CSO OGP Network. An interim report could still be published in March to make the most of the high level platform.

It was agreed that an online calendar should be set-up to keep track of milestones and which anybody can update with relevant events.

The OGP annual meeting is now being held in October. A standing agenda has already been developed for this in partnership with civil society at an international level.

Brown bag lunch

It was agreed that the first brown bag lunch (Thursday 1 November at Open Data Institute) will take place from 12.15 to 13.45, but with the opportunity to flow into the afternoon for people to flesh out elements of the plan. The focus will be on scoping out, and making the case for, the breadth of the next NAP. The draft proposal will subsequently be sent to Francis Maude for approval.


The Cabinet Office team would like to blog in order to raise the profile of the OGP. It was discussed whether the blog set up by the civil society network would be appropriate for this. It was felt by those in the meeting that this would be a good thing to happen, particularly considering the openness of the Cabinet Office team to working with civil society, but that this would be discussed with the rest of the network.

Meeting notes

It was agreed that meeting notes will be produced in partnership between the civil society network and Cabinet Office and that they will be published publically, potentially on the UK OGP blog.