Meeting notes 20th March 2015

Open Government and Participation: London Workshop | 9 March 2015 | Meeting note

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.


The Boardroom, Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster
Tuesday, 9 March 2015 from 17:30 to 20:00

Public participation in policy making is a fundamental part of the open government agenda. It can improve the quality of policy making, bring greater accountability and transparency, and help deepen our democracy.

The UK is a founding member of the Open Government Partnership, an international initiative bringing together networks of reformers inside and outside governments to promote more engaging, transparent and accountable government.

We invited attendees to join the UK Open Government Partnership Civil Society Network and the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Westminster in a discussion to develop public participation commitments for the next OGP National Action Plan. These commitments were developed in Session 2 and will be added to the Open Government Manifesto.

Session 1: Reviewing existing open government ideas

Attendees discussed the merits of existing open government commitments and ranked them in priority order.

Priority Level

Table 1 Table 2 Table 3

Table 4

1 United States: Improve Public Participation in Government
United States: Promote Public Participation in Community Spending Decisions
Meaningful engagement when consulting with stakeholders
Meaningful engagement when consulting with stakeholders
Give the public a say in the future of the UK
Meaningful engagement when consulting with stakeholders
Give the public a say in the future of the UK
Finland: Develop dialogue skills in public administration
Co-production of public services
2 Genuine participation of children in policymaking
Give the public a say in the future of the UK
Genuine participation of children in policymaking
United States: Promote Public Participation in Community Spending Decisions
Israel: Public participation in policymaking processes
United States: Promote Public Participation in Community Spending Decisions
Co-production of public services
Give the public a say in the future of the UK
3 Canada: Consulting Canadians
Greece: Boost Public Engagement
Israel: Public participation in policymaking processes
United States: Improve Public Participation in GovernmentCo-production of public services
United States: Promote Public Participation in Community Spending Decisions
4 Israel: Public participation in policymaking processes Considered priorities (but not formally prioritized):
Genuine participation of children in policymaking
Finland: Develop dialogue skills in public administration
Greece: Boost Public Engagement


Session 2: What open government reforms would you introduce?

Groups discussed and worked up the public participation reforms they would like to see in the next National Action Plan. These commitments will be added to the Open Government Manifesto.


Developing dialogue skills in public admin

To prioritise dialogue skills in recruitment and performance assessment and add to performance assessment for all levels of the civil serviceFeatures:

  • not blanket – targeted e.g. on the fast stream
  • Civil servant of the future – dialogue skills as sexy as data skills
  • Link to civil service reform plan
  • Job opportunities and offer to staff beyond the ‘warm words’ on the job description e.g. job swaps into the private sector practitioners
  • Networks of sharing dialogue experiences – so you know people who have experience
  • Getting out and engaging and living skills

Why is your idea important?

  • embedding dialogue into civil servants working lives, everyday
  • better and broader involvement in policy: more fingerprints on it!
  • making policy more sustainable


  • visible leaders/ examples in all whitehall departments
  • Within civil service/ departments:
      • awards for effective dialogue and engagement
      • promotion is linked to demonstrating how you have involved civil society in decision making/ policy making
  • Who to involve:
      • HR
      • Civil service group @ Cabinet Office
      • Civil society groups


Co-producing meaningful consultation principles and guidelines

The current consultation guidelines are broken. Government must co-produce new guidelines with civil society and citizens with an emphasis on reaching out to groups often ignored.Any co-production must include discussion of:

  • government and regulation
  • timing
  • feedback
  • comms – language and channels
  • depth and reach and inclusiveness
  • commensurate to scale
  • transparency
  • use of new tech and mix of on/offline
  • who these guidelines apply to e.g. public services? Civil service? Local government

Why is your idea important?

Government shouldn’t be developing its own guidelines because involving citizens will make them more meaningful to citizens

This could lead to more ownership and give citizens a way to hold government to account for the way it consults

Consultations are important as a backstop etc

Incentive to develop strong commitments increased by involving citizens

Opens up a broader and different understanding of best practice (via including experts)


Co-production of public services

  • Citizens involved in design and continuing service
  • citizens involved in problem-formation, moving away from consultations in which the agenda is already set
  • holistic approach working across governmental silos
  • needs examples of good practice – where it works or just learning
  • avoid a tokenistic approach
  • needs to engage a genuinely diverse range of people – could involve users as participants and facilitators
  • only in appropriate circumstances

Why is this important?

  • accountability
  • the principle of democracy
  • inclusive of currently missing voices
  • can tackle practical realities to achieve efficient and relevant services


Citizen participation in spending 1% of public budgets

  • The UK Government spends approximately £730 billion
  • It borrows £84 billion
  • Delivery of public services requires transformation, with greater citizen participation in designing, producing and delivering services.
  • Mistrust and a lack of confidence in our politicians, and disengagement from formal democratic processes such as voting are putting our democracy at risk
  • It is common practice that businesses and organisations set aside approximately 1-3% of their budget for transformation and innovation
  • We would like the UK government to consider spending 1% of their overall central and local budgets with citizens, by citizens, for citizens to produce transformed participation in public life

We propose an annual cycle of citizen led participatory activity which builds in ‘expert witnesses’ (citizens, professional bodies, policy experts, resident/service user experience), deliberation, and dialogue to help identify areas for future transformation and innovation in the policy and practice of democratic government.

We ask that a ‘test and learn’ approach is adopted by drawing on both volunteer central government departments and local level public sector organisations (police services, NHS bodies and/or Councils) to trial a participatory, citizen led budgetary process  to help identify future transformations in democratic participation, transparency and public accountability.  On completion of the ‘testing’ process, we request that the learning is captured and considered for future democratic improvement.

We would adopt the principles and values of participatory budgeting, but would like to move beyond the participatory grant making processes that are often used in the UK, toward participation in mainstream public budgetary processes.   The citizen process of spending the 1% budget would mirror the annual organisational budget process so that comparisons can be made on where citizen participation and decision making is different and/or similar to those responsible for spending the 99% of the mainstream budgets.

Why? – set out clearly why you consider it to be important.

It is a well-structured, internationally tested model of citizen participation in budgetary processes: Paris is currently aspiring to involve citizens in spending up to 5% of the overall City Hall Investment budget.

Whilst 1% amounts to a sizeable amount of money in real terms by including  citizens’ knowledge and understanding of local issues in  the decision making process, it will lead to more efficient (and cheaper) service provision long term.

In the UK elected representatives are required at a central and local level to set the strategic direction of public budgets.   However, research shows that there is an increasing level of alienation and distrust of politicians in the UK.

Participatory budgeting has been identified as an effective tool in a fast growing body of evidence that calls for a new relationship that connects the personal with the political.  Essential to refreshing our democracy is the need for new relationships between neighbours, and new relationships between the state and the individual.  (see Ritchie, S. (in press) “Community Engagement, Democracy and Public Policy: a Practitioner Perspective” in Wankhade, P. and Weir D. (Eds). The Police as an Emergency Service: Leadership and Management Perspectives, Springer: New York.)

The values and principles of participatory budgeting were developed with support from right and left of center governments: this is the obvious next step as those politicians demonstrate their commitment to greater citizen participation and budget literacy: the process will complement representative democracy, providing elected members with an informed, structured process of electorate engagement in budget making processes.

Who? – state who you think should be responsible for fulfilling the commitment.

Strand 1: Volunteer Central Government Departments: there are two possible scenarios here, which would need to be agreed in negotiation with OGP representatives:

a.       take 1% from all voluntary central government departments and pool the budgets for citizens to allocate according to their preferred strategic direction

b.      select one or two government departments to be the focus of the test and learn approach, so that citizens go through the same process as civil servants and elected members responsible for those departmental budgets

Strand 2: Volunteer Local Statutory Agencies (NHS bodies, Councils, Police etc)

Each organisation which is willing to be part of the process would decide its own local focus, with the only requirement being that the budget for citizens to influence is a mainstream budget.

How? – suggest how the commitment might be enacted.

We propose that the decision about which departments and organisations are involved should rest with the government of the day, but that they should seek to encourage those agencies at a central and local level to participate so that the learning is maximised for future consideration.

Once a decision about who will be involved has been made, we propose that a Citizen Select Committee/Summit is established to answer the following question:

What would it take to devolve 1% of a public budget to a citizen participation process?

They would hear from expert witnesses (relevant to the focus of the budget), which could include:

  • Local Government Association
  • Association of Police and Crime Commissioners
  • NHS England Board of Governors
  • Local and centrally elected politicians
  • The Treasury/Cabinet Office
  • Trade Unions/Frontline staff associations
  • Service Users
  • Non Service Users
  • Expert Practitioners
  • Association of Chief Police Officers
  • Royal Society of Public Health
  • Expert Polling Analysts
  • Organisations supporting the development of coproduced services
  • Think tanks
  • University Researchers

After considering the findings from the above, the citizens will recommend the way forward for agreement with government representatives.  This process will take six to twelve months.

The next stage will be the actual participatory budgeting process, which should start at the beginning of the annual cycle of budget setting that the relevant organisations usually adopt, and will run for a full budget cycle.

When embarking on the process of PB there should be a commitment to go beyond the 3-8% who might usually participate in forums, public meetings, committees etc, and attract those who rarely get heard in the public decision making process.  The preferred recruitment process would need to be agreed with government but could include:

1.      a targeted, random selection of citizens who reflect the wider population characteristics of the UK

2.      an open invitation to any who wants to participate (with specific targeting of those who aren’t already actively involved in existing government structures of engagement

When? – propose a realistic timescale for implementing the commitment

Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4
Citizen Select Committee
Participatory Budgeting Cycle
Reflection and Recommendations
Develop Policy Statements for all*      ✔

*develop the policy statements for all statutory bodies with unringfenced funding to adopt a PB process with 1% of the unringfenced monies (if they haven’t already joined the movement for more open statutory public services)

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