One of the key challenges for the Open Government Network in Scotland is opening up the open government agenda to wider civil society, in ways that encourage open government to be understood as a movement for change, rather than a technocratic process.
All too often the language associated with Open Government (data, open-contracting, anti-corruption, scrutiny and transparency etc.) can be too far removed from the concerns of civil society organisations, let alone citizens themselves, and in itself creates a barrier to involvement. If we want the open government agenda to come alive for citizens and wider civil society then we need to get better at demonstrating how it can have an impact on the issues that people most care about.
Going back to basics, one of the original grand challenges behind the whole Open Government movement was to improve public services in tangible and inclusive ways. Service delivery is how government becomes reality for most citizens: with fair and equitable access to quality health, education, criminal justice, water, electricity, telecommunications, sanitation, transport, employment etc. being easily recognised as among those things that people really care about in the reality of their daily lives. At the heart of just why this is a goal for Open Government however is the belief that creating real service improvements is not simply a managerial exercise, rather that improvements are more achievable and sustainable when citizens, and the civil society groups that represent and advocate for their interests, are involved in the process.
In this context then, access to information (transparency) and the means for citizens to hold governments and public officials to account for their actions (scrutiny) are fundamentally tools that enable this participation; and not just involvement in monitoring government performance but in actually co-creating the conditions for improvement.
But what does this mean for how we move forward with the open government agenda in Scotland?
In May 2016 Scotland was announced as one of 15 ‘sub-national’ governments and civil society partnerships worldwide to be supported as part of a pioneer programme designed to bring the principles of open government closer to citizen’s everyday interests. The OGP global summit of governments and civil society partners meeting in Paris in December will give Scotland, along with the other pioneer sites, an opportunity to show the progress we have made.
While that meeting is not long away now there are a number of social and political factors that have been shown internationally to create an environment conductive to open government. If we look at these in the context of the situation in Scotland it is clear that, while we still have a lot to do before December, we are already have a headstart:
Over the next week there are 2 events taking place in Scotland to help ‘open the lid’ on Open Government and provide opportunities for more people to get involved in establishing the way forward. Together they offer an exciting opportunity to really focus now on how greater and wider public participation can contribute to realising the goals of open government.
Image Credit: Tomomarusan CC BY 2.5