Points of View 27th September 2013

Analysis of the UK IRM Report | Simon Burall, Involve

by Tim Hughes

This article was originally posted on the Open Government Partnership blog: http://blog.opengovpartnership.org/2013/09/analysis-of-the-uk-irm-report-2/ 


The UK is now deep into the detail of developing the commitments which will form its second National Action Plan. This will be published at the Annual Summit at the end of October.  The release of the IRM report on the first Plan is therefore timely. It will provide a good moment for everyone to think about whether what is emerging this time round means discussions are on track or not.

There were 41 commitments in the first NAP. The IRM report notes that these came out of pre-existing consultations on open data, and that this is the primary focus of the commitments.

Based on the government’s self-assessment, the IRM report finds that 17 of the commitments have been completed, 20 are in progress and 4 have been withdrawn. Of those that are in progress the majority, 14 in total, show only limited progress. To put it another way, just over half of the government’s commitments are either completed, or substantially completed.

While this high-level picture can tell us something, the devil (in fine clichéd form) is in the detail. Has the progress occurred in those commitments which will make the most difference to citizens?

I’m looking forward to exploring with colleagues who understand more about the specifics of open data about whether the picture painted by the numbers is rosy or not. However, there are some worrying signs. For example, the withdrawing of a commitment to extend the Freedom of Information Law to secure the release of valuable datasets will lead many to feel that progress is not as solid as it should have been.

I have personally been much more involved in the development of the second National Action Plan than I ever was in the development or monitoring of the first. This reflects my own organisation’s focus on citizen participation and democracy reform. The IRM report highlights the poor consultation that led to the first National Action Plan. Reflecting my own view, the report highlights the significant progress that has been made in the way the government has engaged civil society in the development of the second plan.

The report notes that the scope of the second NAP has increased, but also raises concerns that expectations have been heightened.

It also provides a timely reminder,

the challenges in creating and carrying into effect a national action plan are evident. Government needs to take the time to engage in authentic open policy making, while satisfying demands to carry initiatives into effect. Building on existing activity may secure delivery, but action plan commitments are expected to stretch previous norms, and as a consequence, are perhaps less certain in outcome. Authentic implementation requires evidence of widespread real-time impact of the action plan agenda, going beyond pockets of good examples and a narrow range of committed stakeholders.

The focus of the commitments in the first plan is testament to the political priority of the Prime Minister and the minister responsible, Francis Maude. The second plan will ‘stretch previous norms’ if the political priorities of ministers outside the Cabinet Office reflect the aspirations of the Open Government Partnership and UK civil society organisations working on the agenda.

Discussions and negotiations, between government departments and civil society, about the next set of commitments are intensifying over the next few weeks. The results of these negotiations, which are about some challenging areas of government policy, will provide a clear indicator of the extent of political commitment to open government across government.

Simon Burall, Director of Involve

UK IRM Report by Open Government Partnership