Meeting notes 29th April 2016

#ogpuk: Notes from Birmingham workshop

by Tim Hughes

Date: Thursday, 7 April 2016 from 15:00 to 17:30

Venue: Impact Hub Birmingham, 58 Oxford Street, Digbeth, Birmingham, B5 5NR


On 7 April 2016, the UK Open Government Network and Cabinet Office co-hosted a workshop in Birmingham to discuss progress on the 2016-18 National Action Plan and ideas for future commitments.

Freedom of Information

  • Interest in whether the OGN was arguing for an extension of FOI to private contractors.
  • Concern that advances in open data would be offered as a substitute in place of FOI, noting that information from FOI is often more significant than that from open data.
  • FOI importance from the civil society perspective highlighted – so many services are delivered by private contractors we may end up with scrutiny of only a very small bit of the picture.

Devolution and accountability

  • Accountability of devolution deals is a big issue, for Manchester especially.
  • Will there be ability for them to make their own National Action Plans (NAPs) – participants noted that in Birmingham and Liverpool there is a larger amount of outsourcing that they might want to use FOI to find out about.  What scope there is for Manchester or Birmingham or Liverpool if they want to make their own strategies? When the OGP was set up, it was specifically for the nation state level. It wasn’t foreseen that cities and regions would be involved. As it’s developed it’s been a gap in the process. Increasingly decisions are being taken at the local level. One of the ideas the Open Government Network has been exploring is whether we could mirror the international process at a local level, but we need to find the resources to support that.
  • Participants thought that NAPs might be a good way to highlight outsourcing concerns.  For example it’s difficult to find out about the bin days and the bus fares.  Suggestion that the tendering process for the waste contracting be made open, and that any contracts put out should be open by default when new contracts come up.
  • Part of this is bringing more and more groups into the process and need to address the skills gap and the lack of money in local councils. Leeds City is losing lots of staff so imposing transparency requirements on councils is not the right way to go about introducing reform.

Open data from local elections

Discussion about how to make local elections data open.

  • Changing the software councils use to record election results would help but it is difficult to make that happen cheaply and at scale.
  • Conversations underway with relevant stakeholders to identify how election data can be made more open
  • One attendee noted that this conversation has been ongoing for over a decade. Another noted that when they spoke to the LGA, they said councils could export the data but only 20 days after the election because they only have three people working on it.

Open data engagement

Discussion around engagement with open data users and the need for a robust data request mechanism.

  • There should be a robust data request mechanism, with performance targets and where requests are treated in accordance with FOI (i.e. 21 day response).
  • There should be a transparent process for assessing requests, with a clear set of criteria against which they’ll be judged, and a mechanism for identifying request hotspots and making trade-offs according to value of request.  To support this, adequate resourcing is needed within departments, including a named individual.
  • Suggestion that the platform should be reviewed and government should promote the use of common open data schemas.

Open government policy engagement

How can we keep this as an ongoing discussion through the lifespan of the action plan. We’re keen to get people’s ideas about more ways to get people involved. What works best for you or those you work with?

  • Interest in knowing who has been involved in the OGP process and who pays them. It seems that there’s different ways that people engage, differently in the devolved nations, which seems like a much better way than to have smaller consultation.
  • Highlighted in response that there was an open process to agree the Open Government Networks priorities in the Open Government Manifesto. The devolved nations are going through a similar process.
  • How do we know which commitments haven’t made it in and which have, and why? Through ongoing work to engage around priorities from the Manifesto and other issues that arise, there will be communication around how things are being taken forward.
  • Meetings should be held in the evenings or weekends
  • The language doesn’t mean a lot to other people.
  • Suggested to focus on issues that relate directly to people’s lives.
  • A stronger system in place for knowledge exchange between different OGP members and countries would be beneficial.