One of the things that makes Involve unique is its commitment to not only developing new ideas around citizen participation, but also to getting out there and making it happen. This commitment is what saw me, on my second day in the job, winging my way to The Hague with my new colleague Tim. We were heading for a peer exchange workshop with other civil society representatives from the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a multilateral initiative that aims to secure commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens and fight corruption. The timing was perfect: I had been doing some preparatory reading about the OGP, one of the key projects I would be working on in my new role, but actually meeting and hearing from other OGP-ers from around the world was the best introduction I could have hoped for. It was a really interesting few days, learning about the open government movement in other countries and deepening my understanding of the UK context.
I joined Involve at the beginning of September from LGiU, the local democracy think tank and charity, where we championed local government in discussions about how to reform public services and change the relationship between citizen and state. The role instilled in me a commitment to localism and bringing power closer to people, which I’ve brought with me to Involve. I’m especially interested in opening up decision-making to those who might otherwise be disenfranchised or struggle to be heard by policy-makers.
Alongside my work on the OGP, I’m also undertaking a secondment to the Cabinet Office to help them develop an ethical code or guidelines for Government departments undertaking data science projects. This comes under the umbrella of Involve’s work on Sciencewise, the UK’s national centre for public dialogue in policy-making involving science and technology issues. The open data, big data and data-sharing agendas have massive potential to improve the work of government, including greater efficiency, transparency and opportunities for innovation. However, the government has recognised the sharing and linking of data in this way raises some ethical questions which are of public concern and need to be addressed, and that they need to develop this practice in an open and transparent way. I’m really excited to be part of a project which is thinking about these issues and helping government consider the public’s outlook on a complex and sometimes controversial agenda. You can read about it here and here.
I’ve joined Involve at a pivotal time for citizen participation. We’ve seen the Scottish referendum focussing everyone’s minds on how to involve citizens in shaping a new British constitution. For the first time, on 18 September, citizens were able to get round the table with the NHS England Board and thrash out issues at the first NHS Citizen Assembly meeting, which Involve helped make happen. Citizen participation as a concept is gaining in popularity, as all parties are struggling to hold on to members and trust in decision-makers is at an all time low. Politicians of all stripes are looking for new ways to engage with the public in a meaningful way. I’m excited that momentum is growing, and to be part of a movement which demonstrates, through transformative work, the value of citizen participation.
Image credit: Nathan