Meeting notes 5th March 2015

Meeting with Francis Maude on UK OGP progress | 23 February 2015 | Meeting note

by Tim Hughes

23rd February 2015


On 23rd February, six members of the UK Open Government Civil Society Network met Francis Maude (Minister for the Cabinet Office) and officials from the Cabinet Office Transparency Team to discuss progress and next steps on the Open Government Partnership in the UK.


Civil Society Network

Anthony Zacharzewski, Democratic Society
Claire Schouten, International Budget Partnership
Rachel Davies, Transparency International UK
Simon Burall, Involve
Tim Davies, Practical Participation
Tim Hughes, Involve

Cabinet Office

Francis Maude
Oliver Buckley
Lizetta Lyster

National Action Plan self assessment

Oliver Buckley introduced the Government’s self-assessment, outlining some of the lessons learnt. These included the value of maintaining engagement with CSOs through the delivery of commitments, but the challenge of implementing commitments with personnel changes in departments.

Civil society network attendees welcomed the opportunities to engage with government in settings where ideas could be discussed, but emphasised the need to keep broadening engagement ever wider to prevent groups becoming in-groups. Those involved need to spread issues out widely in the civil service and civil society, particularly through implementation of and reporting on commitments. Tools used in other parts of government could be adopted to broaden engagement and present progress in an accessible format.

Cabinet Office representatives acknowledged that more could be done to engage more broadly, but highlighted that wider engagement is more challenging and requires resources. Engagement with the devolved administrations is a particular priority. The Minister suggested focusing on low maintenance ways of engaging.

The issue of when documents can and cannot be shared with a wider group was given as an example by civil society network attendees. There is a tendency to default to not sharing. The self-assessment was one such document that could not be shared with the wider group. The principles of openness need to be continually reiterated.

It was suggested that the Open Policy Making team’s approach of blogging their progress could be mirrored by the other commitments.

Progress against individual commitments

Civil society representatives reported that despite effort by the Open Policy Making Team, there has not been much headway on open policy making in government. Connected to this, there has been no connection between consultation guidelines and open policy making.

The Minister commented that there are two ways of trying to embed open policy making. The traditional way would be to have a plan. The alternative is to just do some, and do it in as uninhibited way as possible. He picked the data sharing open policy making process out as an example of this, commenting that it needed to be an open policy making process due to the issue. Necessity and virtue went hand in hand.

There was agreement that the way of getting open policy making into the mainstream would be through demonstrating, rather than ordaining, it. But there was some discussion over whether the issue was ministers or civil servants blocking these new ways of developing policy. On the one hand there was a feeling that there was appetite from ministers. On the other, it was suggested that civil servants needed to feel they had permission and cover to implement open policy making tools and techniques. There’s a need to be bolder about open policy making where it is working, and make it seen as something that’s valued by the leadership of departments.

The conversation moved on to the open contracting commitment. Civil society representatives asked how the UK would champion the open contracting principles and what consultation there had been or would be with civil society on the new version of Contracts Finder.

Contracts Finder has been tested with business, but it was acknowledged that more engagement was needed with civil society. The needs of transparency and accountability community and business overlap, but there are some differences. The site is in beta and will continue to be iterated. Concerns were also expressed about the level of engagement with civil society on the standard transparency clauses in the model government contract.

On the construction sector transparency commitment, civil society reported concerns about the level of engagement from Infrastructure UK on the progress of the domestic side of the commitment. A lack of assurance from government that the last step of the extractives transparency commitment (that UK registered & listed companies will start publishing data under the EU directive in an open accessible format) will be met was also highlighted, as well as disappointment with the way the Department for Business, Innovation and Skill has responded to constructive criticism on the whistleblowing commitment.

The development of the government’s anti-corruption plan was welcomed, and the Minister was asked to ensure that the plan is carried forward after the election. He responded that having developed it, he didn’t imagine a Conservative government would not implement it.

The UK’s recent success on the Open Data Barometer was acknowledged, but the need to continue to focus on areas where the UK is not as strong was emphasised. The Minister responded that whenever he boasts about the UK position, he is careful to point out the UK needs to keep improving to stay ahead. Countries, such as France, are rising quickly through the rankings. Linked to this, civil society network representatives highlighted that the National Information Infrastructure process has been quite focused on business reuse, and not transparency or accountability.

The need to emphasise inclusiveness in digital and open data plans, both at a national and international level, was also emphasised. The Minister responded that he had recently had such conversations internationally. The UK is not in a bad place on digital inclusion, and it’s organically getting better, but that part of the aim of the ‘assisted digital’ element of digital by default was to improve it.

Forward look

The Open Government Manifesto was introduced, with a summary handed out of the ideas currently submitted to it. There are 27 ideas in the manifesto so far, covering local and national government, and the private sector. A series of workshops is being held over the next couple of months to engage a wider group of civil society in discussing and contributing.

The Minister was thanked for his contribution to the open government movement during his time as Minister for the Cabinet Office and there was discussion about who else was interested and might be a champion for the agenda after the election.