News 20th June 2019

The Action Plan has been published – what’s next?

by Andreas Pavlou

image of ottawa skyline

From 28-30 May, Canadian civil society and the Canadian Government hosted the Open Government Partnership Global Summit in Ottawa. This year’s Summit had a particular focus on participation, inclusion and impact.

Over 2,000 delegates, over 100 sessions, and 130 countries (including all the UK nations) came together to learn and share their knowledge, experiences and projects on these and other open government topics.

Importantly for the UK, the government finally published the National Action Plan for Open Government 2019-21. While the seriously-delayed plan does not contain some of the more ambitious commitments civil society may have wanted to see, it’s worth recognising that the policy area has not been completely abandoned by government despite the UK’s current political crisis.

The UK’s fourth action plan sets out eight commitments:

Commitment 1: Grants data
Commitment 2: Public participation
Commitment 3: Open policy making
Commitment 4: Open contracting data
Commitment 5: Natural resource transparency
Commitment 6: Innovation in democracy programme
Commitment 7: Effective knowledge sharing for sustainable Open Government policies and practises across public services in the UK
Commitment 8: Local transparency

After the plan was launched, the Open Government Network published a statement about the need for political leadership to advance open government. The work of civil society and public officials can go so far, but without political leadership it has been difficult to push through more ambitious or even transformational commitments. It has also frustrated people wanting to push on with implementing open government reform.

Now that we move onto the implementation of this plan, we hope that collaboration can continue between government and civil society. Completing implementation of this plan will go a long way in building trust in the UK Government’s commitment to open government reform and in particular, the Open Government Partnership model.

Much of what will determine this agenda in the near future, however, is on the UK’s political representatives. The unpredictable nature of British politics makes it difficult to plan ahead and for politicians to focus on agendas beyond Brexit.

With the forthcoming change in Prime Minister, a continuing unstable minority government, and the ever-imminent prospect of a general election, it is difficult for open government – or frankly, any policy area – to advance its agenda.

That is why the next stage for open government in the UK must begin to build upon learning from other countries in building the structures needed to maintain the agenda beyond that of individuals. Whether it be through sectoral working groups, multi-stakeholder forums, or other mechanisms, we have to start work to build up to the next action plan, while at the same time monitoring the implementation of this new action plan.

Getting an action plan published is by no means the end result. The implementation of this plan will be key in ensuring ongoing confidence in the process. However, with so many other variables outside of the process -both positive and negative – it is difficult to predict the future development of the open government agenda in the UK.