Points of View 24th July 2017

Lifting the curtain on open government – my first few months in post

by Paul Bradley

This post talks about some of the things I’ve been working on over the last five months, my initial thoughts about the network and forum in Scotland and invites you to support me in building this community of open government champions across Scotland.

What do people say about open government outside of this network?

Understanding this has been my focus in recent months, looking to lift the curtain on this agenda to allow wider civil society to look in and become champions of open government. I’ve also been in listening mode, making it my business to understand what’s gone before and what progress looks like – compartmentalising feedback to build a critical perspective of open government in Scotland.

Then there’s getting the Big Lottery funded Pioneers Project up and running. This project is all about working with different communities to explore what an open government means in the context of the things that matter most across society. How do we ensure government truly serves its citizens rather than themselves first in areas such as health, education and housing?

Image of participants at the event, Opening up government for ethnic minority communities

We’re using the broad agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to frame those conversations, which means that my role consists of promoting not just one but two multilateral agendas here in Scotland. It’s some test, but one of the most exciting challenges I’ve faced.

The first few months have been about building the structures for a wider conversation around open government, with early work streams developed with a variety of groups, including women, disabled people and ethnic minority communities. It’s about identifying the issues, exploring the problems and creating solutions together.

An example is our work with young people. Last week we co-hosted an event with Young Scot with a view to co-producing an unconference with young people around open government. This builds on our support for the Young Citizens Advocates series delivered by IDEAS and Eco-Schools, and our prospective work with Project Scotland to build a structured policy dialogue between young people and policy makers in Scotland.

I’ve also been setting up Scotland’s SDG Network and our Global Goals platform. The SDGs are an area where we’ve made significant progress in recent months, but I recognise that the goals aren’t everyone’s interest.

My attention now turns to this network. With a membership that’s nearly doubled in five months – a big welcome to all of our new members – and one that boasts an impressive cross-section of civil society, this network has brought more than 200 people together to help make government more open and I’m optimistic with where we can go together.

As I set my focus on this network, I hope you will work with me to grow our community. This network hosts some of the brightest minds across civil society, and should be used as a place to bring people together, share expertise and ideas and strengthen the open government movement across Scotland.

Our network must also grapple with the dynamic between government and the various parts of civil society as together we look to adopt a new way of working. Both parties will have different expectations, and civil society itself hosts individual agendas and perspectives. But that is the beauty of a network, and our role is to work with this; we need our network to play host to different views and ideas or risk leaving the curtain closed.

If there is going to be another open government action plan – and I hope that there is – then the process needs to be different. This network needs to be different. We need to learn from best practice, but build something that connects with Scotland. There’s no single right way of doing this, but the dialogue mechanism between civil society and government must improve as should the feedback loop when collaboration takes place and when decisions are made.

We also need to think carefully about how this network looks and feels. There will be different views on this, but I want to see a network that is as open as possible and a place where anybody can participate. Getting the right balance and learning from what has gone before will be fundamental to the delivery of any future plans. You can find out more about this in the draft terms of reference that will remain up for discussion.

Over the next few weeks I will be looking to roll out topical interviews and ‘know your network’ profiles as a way to promote ideas, connect members and bring people into our network. I’ll be approaching you to take part, and I hope that you will! Even better, if you would like to support me in the early stages of curation then please get in touch – I need you to influence our network!

I will continue to blog about my work over the next six months to allow you to job shadow me via the Open Government forum and site. Your comments, feedback and ideas are extremely welcome, and I’m looking forward to meeting some more of you in the coming weeks and months.

You can get in touch by contacting [email protected].

Or join Scotland’s Open Government Network.

Paul Bradley