News 29th January 2018

Bringing Open Government to Local Governments

by Andreas Pavlou

Last week, the Open Government Network was in Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds to talk with local residents and civil society organisations about the problems they face, and reforms they feel are needed, to bring about more open government in the UK.

Our workshops with people around England, and complemented in the devolved nations by our sister networks in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, are an essential element in developing the UK’s 2018-20 open government national action plan. The conversations will better inform and prepare us before we enter the co-creation stage between civil society and government to draft the action plan.

This process of crowdsourcing ideas and proposals – to continue in Birmingham and Bristol this week – aims to go further than last time (when the devolved nations were included) to also incorporate ideas for local government.

The emphasis on open government at the local level, and finding those local pioneers who want to change the way their cities are run, is well timed – the Open Government Partnership announced this week it has opened applications for another round of its local government programme. [1]

But what was discussed in the workshops?

Participants from the three northern English cities were passionate about tackling local issues. They wanted their local governments (be it metro-mayors, city councils, or combined authorities) to be far more transparent about how decisions are made and how local money is spent; engage more with local populations to make sure they are a real part of decision-making processes; and give the public greater clarity about local government responsibilities so that local communities can better hold their representatives and institutions to account.

Many of the proposals that emerged from these workshops are the kinds of ideas that could be replicated up and down the UK, including:

  • Make local tender processes more transparent;
  • Ensure local consultation processes actively seek out marginalised groups and critical voices who are often not included;
  • Guarantee obligatory feedback mechanisms for local consultations so people know how their comments were used in taking decisions;
  • Ensure that local government communicates better what it does (which included an idea to crowdsource FAQs online that trigger responses from local government if supported by a certain number of local residents).

We have just started the journey towards creating and launching the UK’s open government action plan, and we want you to be part of it.

All ideas from the workshops will be uploaded to the online consultation platform where you can read and comment on them, and vote for the ones you like. You might even feel inspired and decide that actually, you want to propose something yourself!

You can keep up to date with the action plan process by following us on Twitter, take part in the discussions either via the Open Government Network Forum, adding your voice to our online consultation, or participate in our open government workshops.

Our next workshops will be in Birmingham (Impact Hub, Digbeth) on Weds 31st January, and Bristol (Hamilton House, 80 Stokes Croft) on Thurs 1st February.

[1] In 2016, Scotland successfully joined the OGP pilot programme for lower-level tiers of government, that has now been relaunched by the international initiative. Over two years, Scotland (as a subnational level of government) developed its own action plan on open government with Scottish civil society and citizens.