Northern Ireland 23rd March 2016

Imagine!Belfast and Opengovni

by Ann Allan

Imagine ! The Belfast festival of ideas and politics came to an end last weekend. From all accounts a very successful week. Opengovni had two events, both of which were well attended. Both were interesting and entertaining and both introduced new ways of looking at the problem of governments withholding both information and data.
The first venue was the magnificent City Hall and it was nice to be back. I hadn’t been there since acting as an observer at the count for the council elections back in 2014. But that’s another story.
After welcomes from our host Quintin Oliver, from Stratagem and from Alderman Jim Rogers,  we were given a background to OGN by Colm Burns. ( OGN Chair). Alderman Rogers recognised that, with RPA ( review of public administration), this is an opportune moment to embrace open government for the benefit of citizens. Good to hear this from a politician.
It was then time for the keynote speaker, Dr.Michael Harris,  founder of Guerilla Policy and who also runs the website Guerilla Wire.
The key points of his talk:
He spoke about the disenchantment of voters and how that could explain why controversial characters like Donald Trump are doing so well in the run up to the American elections.
He talked about how we need a new approach to developing policy. We should, he suggested, be developing a way for public service practitioners and service users to conduct research and policy analysis. These groups are at the frontline and as a result have practical expertise and experience.
Dr. Harris then explained the growth of Podemos ( We Can) now the second largest political party in Spain. Interesting to see the rapid growth of what started off as a small pressure group reacting to inequality and corruption within government. Too early  to say how the rise of austerity parties throughout Europe will pan out. ( my opinion)
Dr Harris ‘s talk was followed by lightning talks focusing on the theme of : Making Open Government  Open to Citizens.
Dean Blackwood,  Director, Faugan River Anglers was first.  Dean spoke about the difficulty of obtaining information from government departments, Why? What is being covered up?
Katherine Torney from The Detail emphasised that if Open Data is really open it allows for evidence based policy and decision making.
Glenn  Jordan, Director  of the Law Socity  spoke about corruption. ” The effects of corruption are personal so they are devastating. Corruption leaves children without mothers, families without healthcare, people without food, the elderly without security and businesses without capital.
Daniel Holder Deputy Director of CAJ outlined the excuses for the refusal to use bilingual road signs. Road safety being one! Perhaps not really the reason.
Finally Lorraine Boyd from NEET  ( In Need of  Education Employment  or Training). Lorraine outlined the problems facing troubled young people who need to access, maintain and progress to employment.

We then divided into workshops and discussed among other topics, open data, access to information, civic participation, public accountability, and anti corruption.

During feedback from the different groups and in a robust panel discussion with the audience it was clear that there is a lot needs to be done to further our aims but the audience was enthusiastic and we were all singing from the same hymn sheet.

Concluding remarks from our host included the invitation to some horizontal networking over lunch. Me? I stayed vertical.

Thanks to and