News 11th May 2018

How government and civil society is collaborating to drive openness – Gila Sacks

by Guest

gila_sacksGila Sacks is Director for Digital and Tech Policy at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Her responsibilities include support for the tech sector and wider digital economy, emerging technologies, digital skills and inclusion, and the societal and ethical implications of technology.

Opening up government is a powerful way of building trust and bringing people together, both nationally and locally. The UK Government is committed to open government and is a world leader in providing access to information, civic participation and public accountability.

As a founding member of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), we’re developing the next National Action Plan (NAP) for 2018-2020, which will be launched this summer. Through the Open Government Network (OGN), we’re working in partnership with 900 civil society organisations and individuals to produce an ambitious and achievable plan. Yesterday I co-chaired the first Multi-stakeholder Forum tasked with creating that plan, which is the UK’s fourth NAP.

We want civil society and citizens actively engaged in developing, implementing and monitoring the National Action Plan. The Multi-stakeholder forum has an important role to play in this – in shaping the strategic direction of the NAP, facilitating discussion on the broader future of open government in the UK, and critically, helping to ensure these things lead to action.

Promoting public trust and driving innovation

This open government agenda now has a new home in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). At the beginning of April, DCMS assumed responsibility for data policy functions held by the Government Digital Service, including open data and open government.

This move brings together for the first time data policy for both government and the wider economy, to ensure the UK is fully realising the benefits of data. The move also brings even closer together open government policy with the Office for Civil Society, also in DCMS, which is responsible for policy relating to young people, volunteers, charities, social enterprises and public service mutuals.

At DCMS, we’re working to build a world-leading digital economy which works for everyone. That means working to ensure this is the best place to start and grow a digital business, but also the safest and fairest place to be online. Our Digital Charter is working to strengthen public confidence and trust in technology, because only confident and engaged citizens can drive a flourishing, innovative digital economy.

This issue of trust is an important one. While the internet is a powerful force for good, for engagement, for participation and bringing people together, it can also can be used to harm, to undermine civil discourse, to distort information, to divide, and even to damage democracy. But we know that for our democracy, our society, and our digital economy to thrive, we must harness new technologies to become part of the solution, not just part of the problem. The open government agenda is a powerful opportunity to demonstrate and ensure just that. To drive accountability, trust and engagement.

First Multi-stakeholder Forum meeting

In yesterday’s forum meeting, the Open Government Network introduced its 2018 Manifesto, setting out potential themes to address in this year’s plan. We discussed the themes, which include building open data infrastructure for action; law, participation and policy; and accountability at home and abroad.

We talked through the priorities for the plan and had an interesting discussion about some of the challenges of embedding openness throughout government, not just at national level but locally as well. We discussed the importance of publishing open data in structured formats that better enable civil society and citizens to use it. We also talked about where technology can increase citizen engagement and be used as a positive force. And about the limitations of technology too.

What we’ve achieved so far

While looking towards the 2018-2020 NAP, we’re also currently implementing the UK’s NAP for 2016-2018, which was launched nearly two years ago.

The UK now ranks as number one in the Open Data Barometer, and over 40,000 datasets have been published on Find Open Data (formerly The UK is leading the world in creating an open register of beneficial ownership. The UK’s register went live in 2016, containing details about who ultimately owns and controls UK companies to tackle the misuse of companies and other legal entities.

We’re also the first G7 country to commit to the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) for contracts, administered by the Crown Commercial Service. This is part of a global shift to open public contracting – reducing fraud and corruption, saving governments money and time, and creating opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses.

The 2016 UK Government NAP also committed government to publish to the 360Giving standard, an open data standard for philanthropic giving. This was delivered in October last year by the Cabinet Office Grants team publishing £106bn of grant spend data to the scheme’s standard level, with the Ministry of Justice and Department for Transport publishing at award level. This year’s release will see a number of other departments publish more granular detail.

At DCMS, we believe that technology should not just drive transparency and accountability in government, but also citizen engagement and participation. The collaboration between government, civil society and citizens around the 2018-2020 NAP is a great and potentially transformational example of that.