Meeting notes 3rd October 2017

Collaborating to progress open government in Scotland

by Paul Bradley

Collaboration between government and civil society is at the heart of the Open Government Partnership. Without it, trust will go wanting and success hampered by the lack of a strong guiding coalition maintaining the sense of urgency and vision we need. Success will not occur overnight, but we must work to improve this partnership.  

Last month, a joint session was held with the Scottish Government and Civil Society Network. It focused on how we can work together in the delivery of current and future open government commitments. In particular, the session focused on meeting the five commitments in the current National Action Plan.

With a format inspired by the need for a different type of conversation, participants were given the opportunity to share their thinking on each of the five commitments with the commitment leads from Government. Below is a selection of participants’ input from the session.

Open Government Workshop

Commitment One: Financial Transparency

Infographics are needed to explain financial data in a way that everyone can understand.

Government needs to trust the public with the data and proactively publish more of it.

Proactively publishing more data would help to move us away from relying on Freedom of Information (FoI) requests.

More actors, including the public, should be engaged in the feedback process on budgetary decisions.

Commitment Two: Measuring Scotland’s Progress

We need clear evidence that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are not only a bolt-on to the National Performance Framework (NPF).

Will the Scottish Government publish the report from Carnegie UK, which captures the responses of consultees during the NPF consultation?

Did the consultation process explore the link between the SDGs and the NPF, or was this reconfigured for the National Action Plan?

Wider membership of the NFP Roundtable is needed. There seems to be a lack of knowledge of the group beyond certain organisations.

The Scottish Government should reach out to more networks, including the media, wider civil society, business and higher education.

A communications strategy is needed to ensure the public, MSPs and civil society are well informed.

There are concerns that people and civil society are not aware of where Government currently is in the process of reviewing the National Outcomes.

The process could be improved through providing more funding to consult properly, better communications in the consultation process through utilising the digital/comms teams and connecting with international peers to learn from experience.

Commitment Three: Deliver a Fairer Scotland

There needs to be a clearer demonstration of where the money for Fairer Scotland is being spent.

Place based working is central to understanding the issues of different communities.

There needs to be new conversations about the delivery of Fairer Scotland, as well as links to existing ones.

Future conversations need to be challenging – when will we really act to make Scotland fairer?

We need to utilise networks of public service and private sector workforces – teachers, doctors, nurses etc.

There is a need to link Fairer Scotland with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Commitment Four: Participatory Budgeting

How do we know that current participatory budgeting is contributing to reducing inequalities?

We need to be aware of ensuring equality of access to participatory budgeting.

Further consideration is needed of the balance between digital and traditional participatory budgeting.

More resources are needed for support costs, as well as increased capacity for delivering participatory budgeting.

Commitment Five: Increased Participation

At what level can citizens get involved in democracy? We need better infrastructure for good democracy.

We need to capture and present what is happening across all Government departments.

Structural devolution to citizens is needed.

Government must maintain open conversations over time and not just during consultation periods.

There is a case of good rhetoric vs. reality of real engagement.

We need a Scottish Government/Civil Society working group on this commitment.

Good practice in places needs to be replicated to ensure consistency.

Health is an area where future commitments for increasing participation could be made.

Professionals can be afraid of being told how things are done by citizens.

The issues up for discussion need to matter to people for them to get involved.


Towards the end of the workshop, participants came together for a final discussion on what they’d like to see happen next. It was clear that civil society wanted a more organised and systematic approach from Government, such as setting up groups for Government and civil society to come together. This shouldn’t be taken forward in a time bound way in line with the current plan, but more along the lines of establishing a growing and sustainable network of relationships between Government and civil society.

Participants were also keen for a clearer demonstration from Government of what’s happening to deliver the current National Action Plan, with more opportunities to come together also needed. What was most striking was the discussion on the assumption that everyone knows what open government is about. We need to be aware of language, acronyms and the level of discussions that people are having – this is one of the biggest obstacles to our open government vision.

My reflections on the session point to nothing new. We know that a stronger dialogue mechanism between Government and the Open Government Network is needed, with clearer ways for civil society to get involved. What are the Government’s asks of civil society across each of these five commitment areas and on the OGP agenda more generally, and how can the Network get more involved?

Looking forward, the focus in October will be on reaching out to this network for feedback on plans for how civil society should organise itself for the co-production of a future Open Government Action Plan. I have also been invited to attend an OGP meeting for civil society – here I’ll be meeting with civil society peers to seek their thoughts on how OGP can become the lever for change we want it to be.

The next meeting of Scotland’s Open Government Network, which will be attended by the independent evaluator assigned by OGP to assess Scotland’s Action Plan, will also take place at Hayweight House in Edinburgh on Wednesday 8th November, between 13:30 – 16:30. Sign up here to attend. 

Keep a watch in the Open Government Forum for more information on plans for a future action plan, the OGP meeting I’ll be attending and our next ‘In the hot seat’ that will focus on the progress Scotland is making on participatory budgeting (Commitment 4).