Meeting notes 25th April 2016

Open Government in Scotland: Meeting Notes

by Kaela Scott

On the 20th April 2016 21 people from Scottish civil society groups and government met in Edinburgh to discuss the draft Scottish commitments for the National Action Plan and look at how we could expand and strengthen the Scottish Network.

Lucy McTernan (Deputy Chief Executive SCVO), Tim Hughes (UK Open Government Civil Society Network Co-ordinator from Involve) and Doreen Grove (Scottish Government) opened the workshop and provided an overview of the Open Government Partnership, Scotland’s involvement to date, the role of the Civil Society Network and the implications and opportunities of Scotland having now been selected as a sub-national pilot site as background to the discussions.

Small group discussions followed focussed on the commitments included in the draft Scottish Commitments for the UK National Action Plan: reviewing the existing commitments and identifying any areas of concern and/or opportunities for strengthening or extending these commitments in the future.

Access to Information

  • We need to step up our ambitions in the Access to Information commitment to put more stress on the need to push proactive publication forward
  • There needs to be more emphasis in this and the open data sections on digital inclusion and efforts to improve digital literacy so that accessible information is useable
  • Citizens need to better understand what data is available, why it’s there, how it can be used, why that is significant, why it is powerful.

Anti- Corruption

  • There is a need to widen the way corruption is described and understood to include a focus on systems, behaviours and practices that, while not necessarily illegal, undermine the integrity of public governance.
  • We need to look further at proceeds of crime alongside the Cashback for Communities programme to look at widening social benefits
  • The current PFI scandal has highlighted the need for greater transparency relating to beneficiaries and accountability and how commercial confidentiality can be used to restrict information. There should be a way of demanding that companies ‘open their books’
  • Should there be a reference here to the Scottish government’s new tax and social security powers?

Civic Participation

  • Commitments need to reflect not just the implementation of the Community Empowerment Act but also the ambitions of the Act, including scrutiny of the impact and outcomes
  • While there was a lot of support for the commitments to continue to develop participation opportunities and demonstrate people’s influence on policy outcomes, there needs to be a parallel commitment that consultation and engagement not only needs to be embedded into processes but needs to be done well – and for that to happen it needs to be effectively resourced

Open Data

  • Are there too many action points? Would fewer and more succinct action points could be more realistic to deliver?
  • Is there a need for a national (UK or Scottish) leading “driving body” for open data commitments? To provide leadership, ensure commitments are delivered and which is resourced to fulfil these functions
  • Organisations often don’t know that data they have so the idea of opening data presents many unknowns to people.

Public Accountability

  • There was a call to investigate a new action relating to beneficial ownership / beneficiaries of decisions and contracts, possibly by introducing a beneficiary audit into the policy making process in a similar way to equalities impact assessments are currently carried out
  • There will be opportunities to strengthen actions relating our Human Rights treaty obligations through links with the Sustainable Development Goals
  • Is there is a need for a civil society body, someone the government can’t fire, to be charged with researching, monitoring and scrutinising processes (wider than the existing scrutiny of public appointments). But who is going to fund/resource this?


Strengthening the network and next steps

Ruchir Shah (Policy Manager, SCVO) explained how the SCVO has been the key mechanism so far for bringing the voice of civil society into OGP conversations in Scotland and their role in mobilising participation. He stated that the task now is to widen, strengthen and potentially formalise the network and asked for suggestions on the way forward.

  • There is a need to open up the language of Open Government so that more people, from a diverse range of civil society perspectives (both individuals and on behalf of organisations), are able to see it as meaningful and relevant to them.
  • Suggestion that we need to start framing the Open Government agenda less as a ‘window’ and more as a ‘door’ i.e. not just a way to SEE IN (through access to information, open data, open contracting etc) but as a way to GET IN and influence change.
  • It was agreed that establishing a steering group would be a key next step and there will be a call for nominations put out to the membership
  • Once formed a Steering Group could be the mechanism through which to establish lead partners or working groups as required to focus in on specific actions/themes in more detail.

Read the full notes from the meeting here.