Uncategorised 16th May 2024

Blog: Nordic+ Scotland meet-up

by Admin

The Nordic+ group of OGP members is a network of government and civil society reformers which formed in acknowledgment of our shared experiences of life in similar societies, economies and climate. Relatively privileged in a global context we nevertheless have challenges to face in protecting and progressing democracy.

In April 2024 Scotland hosted our colleagues in a face to face meeting in Edinburgh, which as an innovation we had designed to focus specifically on the theme of financial transparency in the hope our shared effort would drive significant improvements across our region.

I was delighted to welcome Nordic+ to Edinburgh and especially to civil society organisation owned venue – the Grassmarket Project– a fantastic example of how the local community continues to support vulnerable people in the middle of a vibrant and beautiful city, in an area buzzing with tourists. The idea for this event came in another beautiful city – Tallinn in Estonia during last autumn’s fantastic global summit and the launch of the OGP Challenge – the new framework we have in place globally now to drive collaboration and ambition around particular themes.

Those that know me in this community know I have been involved in “Follow the Money” activism for most of my career. For me – if you know where the money is, has come from, and is going – everything else in terms of public policy development follows. I remember very early in my career as a policy officer with a charity here in Scotland, trying to unravel where money in the Health budget went and why more of it didn’t go into the kind of preventive work we did. It was my job to make the case for more to be invested in community organisations working to stop people falling into addiction, to encourage healthy lifestyles and in doing so stopping unnecessary admissions into hospital. You know the sort of thing – youth groups, befriending projects for elderly people, food and nutrition – at a time when all politicians talked about was acute care – hospital beds, waiting times for operations and so on. We weren’t really talking about a major shift in expenditure – our argument was small sums could make a significant difference if redirected, so I was looking for where those small sums might be found…

I had only got down two rows of the published spreadsheet before I got to a sum of many millions of pounds labelled, simply “miscellaneous”. ‘Miscellaneous”: the dictionary definition is “Consisting of many things of different sorts”. Many millions of pounds to be spent on many things of different sorts….. I ask you, transparency??

Now, things are better than that these days of course – but not better enough to drive real citizen and public engagement in important spending decisions, opening up politics to the people who are affected daily by those decisions. That’s why we have focused through three OpenGov Action Plans so far since Scotland joined OGP on a journey to much more meaningful financial transparency. We have unashamedly borrowed and stolen ideas from elsewhere in the world – from such as Mexico and Georgia to get us to where we are now – and the Nordic+ network offers even more example and inspiration but also the opportunity to work together systematically.

This international and national-local shared learned is extremely powerful. It shows up just how similar our challenges are in different places – the context will be different economically, politically, geographically – but wherever you go, if you look hard enough you will find a civil society activist like me arguing for investment in community projects to help people keep healthy – and all the other things civil society organises besides. In my time on the global committee I’ve seen many many examples where joint working between different OGP members has taken those commonalities, built on them, and accelerated progress. That’s what the Challenge framework is all about.

For a full readout of the event please join our Open Gov Week event planned for 29th May (further details to be shared soon)

Lucy McTernan is a member of the Open Government Scotland Civil Society Group.