Points of View 21st November 2017

In the hot seat: Matthew Rice talks through his ambitions for Open Rights Group Scotland

by Paul Bradley

Earlier this month, I caught up with Matthew Rice, Director at Open Rights Group (ORG) Scotland, to find out a little more about the development of ORG in Scotland and to hear his thoughts on our movement for more open government. 

ORG Scotland Logo and Image of Matthew Rice

Open Rights Group Scotland – tell us more!

Open Rights Group are a grassroots campaigning organisation focusing on digital rights, so where tech and human rights interact. We have almost 3000 supporters across the UK and people have recently been getting more involved in the Scotland operation, which I’m Director for. We have about 200 people active in Scotland.

Why did you get involved in ORG?

The really unique selling point of ORG is that we have networks of committed people across the UK. We’re not a think tank where money is coming in from foundations to develop solutions. We’re predominantly funded by our supporters who give their monthly donations. Because of that, there’s a sense of responsibility and a sense of purpose around why you do the work you do. It also helps hugely with the theory of change that ORG talks about – this focuses on culture change, and how that is done is by having more discussions in more places.

What would you like to get out of expanding ORG in Scotland?

Personally, it’s about drawing people closer to their Scottish political representatives – people feeling like they can talk to their MSP about any issue, so the conversation can genuinely mean something. The real success for ORG Scotland would be the narrowing of the gap between constituents and their representatives and for discussions to be more open and inclusive – you shouldn’t need a background in something or a degree to have a say. Diverse groups are needed, whether that’s library group members or mother and father societies talking about privacy online, just as an example. We need more people involved.

What do you see as the overlap between ORG Scotland and the Open Government Network? How can members come together?

On a purely practical level, ORG Scotland is just me. So, when you have limited resources, networks become incredibly important and you can share the burden. The required work in Scotland is no less than in the rest of the UK, so we need to work with groups like Involve, SCVO and others to ensure we’re linking up and supporting each other. As a group of organisations, we all care about free and open discussions based on evidence that is generated in Scotland and this can be realised through the open government agenda coming into fruition.

Is there anything you would like to see in a future open government action plan?

One of the pieces of work I got stuck into at ORG Scotland was the opportunity to review the FOI Scotland Act. It was an opportunity that presented itself from a number of different places, including recent complaints from journalists. But when we started speaking to people in the Open Government Network it became clear that there was a wider, endemic problem than with just the Scottish Government centrally. The scale of which an FOI law review should be done is sometimes underestimated – if I was to add something, it would be a full reform of FOISA, especially removing the opportunity for organisations to be exempt from FOISA. There should also be better transparency from those involved in delivering public services – following the spirit of the act just isn’t enough.

Has anything surprised you since moving back up to Scotland from London?

The first thing was being surprised that there were already things happening in Scotland. Being Scottish, and then finding out there are things happening everywhere, it was surprising. But being in London, the London centric mentality can take a grip and it was a welcome lesson to learn that even though large organisations don’t exist as they do in London there are some amazing organisations with years of experience working on Scottish issues. That’s been a welcome addition. Most importantly, those organisations are incredibly friendly, which I wasn’t too surprised about!

How can network members get involved?

We are always looking to grow and share and collaborate with other organisations. We’ve got local groups in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow. If there’s a group in Dundee already then please link up with us. Our events are organised by meet-up, which I’m sure most will be aware of – keep an eye open and if any event appeals to you, either as an attendee or collaborator, then please reach out to me.

What would you like to see the network do to support coordination of the open government coalition in Scotland?

So being a geek, I do always think that technology can give us opportunity for finding more solutions. I’d love to see more open government tools, whether it be data analysis to help us understand how a budget can understood, and using the network as a sounding board to ensure the messaging isn’t being lost and is being tailored to people. For coders out there, the network would be a perfect focus group to tap into.

Thanks to Matthew for speaking to Scotland’s Open Government Network. You too can become a member and contribute simply by clicking here — we’d love to see you join in the discussions on our forum! You can also reach me anytime at [email protected].