Points of View 4th March 2015

Faces of the UK Open Government Network – Alistair Stoddart, Demsoc Scotland

by Josephine Suherman-Bailey

Josephine was a Policy Analyst at Involve. She worked on the Open Government Partnership and supported the coordination of the UK Open Government Partnership civil society network.

Open government can be an abstract idea. We want to give people a better idea of what it is, and who is in the UK Open Government Civil Society Network. We’ve asked some existing members of the network to give us their thoughts on what open government means to them, why it’s important, where they have seen open government make a difference to the lives of citizens, and the reforms they would ask of government.

We’ll be publishing a series of profiles of members of the network every few weeks, so keep a lookout! Our second blog is Alistair Stoddart from Demsoc Scotland.

Alistair Stoddart, Demsoc Scotland

alibrightonOpen Government is about government moving from exercising power over people, to sharing power with people. It is about ensuring people can participate in shaping the policy and decisions that impact on their lives.

Representative Democracy is stuck within a 19th Century model that it is trying to operate in the 21st Century. People are no longer satisfied selecting a government once every 5 years in an election and leaving their involvement in decision making at that point. There must be more opportunities for citizens to collaborate with government and institutions to improve services, solve problems and make better policy.

Examples of Open Government are happening in a lot of places; participatory budgeting in Latin America, prioritising of citizen generated ideas for policy in Iceland, Open Ministry in Finland. However, Open Government is not happening enough for it to always make a clear impact, all of the time. This is why Governments must keep experimenting with ways to ensure increased transparency, engagement and accountability in order to ensure more citizens can experience the benefits of Open Government.

The one reform I would ask of government is to Experiment, Learn and Repeat. It is certainly not easy to transform government. It will take time. I think one good way of ensuring we achieve open government is by government committing to carry out participation tests and pilots on a range of policy areas every year. The lessons from these experiments should then be documented and fed back into future tests of participative policy making. Hopefully, this would eventually lead to more and more policies and services being designed in an involving manner which will in turn create Open Government.