Points of View 11th August 2017

Open Government Partnership: Reflections on our time in Washington

by Paul Bradley

By Emma Harvey (Scottish Government) and Paul Bradley (Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations)

Image of attendees at the Open Government Partnership's subnational workshop in Washington DC


Last year, Scotland was accepted to be part of the Pioneer Tier of the Open Government Partnership, a pilot program consisting of 15 subnational governments with action plans to open up government throughout 2017. This handed Scotland a unique opportunity to show itself as an exemplar for what can be done and what all countries should aspire to when delivering democracy.


Earlier this year we were invited to a workshop in Washington DC, home of the Open Government Partnership, to share implementation successes and challenges, build collaboration, and provide input into the future design of the Pioneer Program with fellow OGP Pioneers. Scotland was represented by Emma Harvey and Doreen Grove from the Scottish Government and Paul Bradley and Lucy McTernan from the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO).


40 people, from 15 countries, arrived in Washington DC, with varying degrees of jet lag, on 18 July, ready to share their experience of the Pioneer project so far, and learn from each other. Sanjay Pradhan, OGP Chief Executive, set the scene, outlining how OGP can be a countervailing force against rising authoritarianism and citizen distrust and exclusion by protecting and enhancing civic space, and how OGP is working to advance Open Government norms and the Global Goals agenda across countries. Sanjay also noted how the Pioneers are leading the way in many areas, particularly around participatory policy making, citizen feedback on service delivery and addressing corruption.


Civil society representatives meeting to discuss the Subnational Pioneer Programme

We heard in more detail how the different Pioneers are delivering their action plan commitments. What struck us most was the similarities in what we are trying to achieve; Paris  is developing its participatory budgeting to increase engagement in marginalised communities; Tbilisi  is developing an e-portal to improve access to fiscal information and enable citizen monitoring of budgets year round; and Elgeyo-Marakwet  is working on increasing public participation to improve outcomes and effectiveness across government.


Scotland also has commitments looking at each of these areas, so what can we learn from each other? Would Elgeyo-Marakwet’s use of WhatsApp participation panels work here? Could we use the same open source software as Tbilisi to develop a budget portal? There are so many questions and areas for us to explore!


Scotland's representatives presenting on open government and the Sustainable Development Goals in ScotlandWe also had useful discussions about how government and civil society can best work together to develop and deliver OGP commitments and develop the open government movement. The OGP has clearly defined structures and guidance on developing and supporting a Multistakeholder Forum. This is an area where we are still growing in Scotland, and hearing from others about what is, and isn’t, working for them was really useful. One of the key takeaways from Washington was how do we develop the structures to support effective engagement, across government and civil society, and with citizens, without bringing in too much bureaucracy and stifling innovation – all thoughts are welcome!


With a membership that’s nearly doubled in five months and one that boasts an impressive cross-section of civil society, Scotland’s Open Government Network has grown significantly since we were handed the status of Pioneer. This puts us in a much stronger position to collaborate and advance open government in Scotland in the coming months and years, something that many in Washington were impressed with.


Image of Scotland's Open Government Network logo

As mentioned previously, 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’ve learnt a lot from taking forward Scotland’s first Open Government Action Plan, and this honesty is something that we took with us to the OGP. By doing so, we were able to bring back genuine advice that we hope will make Scotland’s open government movement stronger.


So, what’s next? We are planning two streams of work for the rest of 2017, demonstrating how we are working together to deliver the commitments in the current action plan; and planning for the future – where do we want to take OGP in Scotland in 2018 and beyond? To take these forward we have a joint workshop between the Scottish Government and Open Government Network to focus on how the partnership can increase civil society collaboration and citizen involvement, as well as a Steering Committee meeting to address the future of open government in Scotland. More information will be posted shortly.