Let’s assume that you think open government is a good idea. You’d be hard placed to find someone in Scotland who would say otherwise – open sounds better than closed, right? That may be so, but do we really know what it means and why it’s a good idea? Are we sure of the value open government can deliver for our society and why we should care?
Scotland’s Open Government Network has been working with the Scottish Government over the past 18 months to deliver Scotland’s first Open Government Action Plan, part of our country’s promise as a member of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) to work with citizens and civil society to make government work in a more transparent, engaging and accountable way.
Of course, all of those things are good. But as the 2017 action plan comes to an end and Government and civil society gear up to develop and launch Scotland’s 2018-2020 action plan, we need to be ready to not just say these things matter and show how they matter.
We could choose to work with the same people, go along with the broad acceptance of open government as a ‘good thing’ and continue with business as usual. Or, we could reach out to people and organisations that should be involved in open government and would be if they knew of the benefits.
Let’s start with you!
Think about your average day. Perhaps you woke up at home, travelled to work and then picked up the children from school. Not a typical day for everyone, but the actions that government takes help make all this a reality. Who funds that new housing and who hands out the contracts to develop the schools, roads and trains we use?
Government uses public money to develop the society we live in. The decisions it takes impacts on all our lives. Open governments do not just allow us to see what decisions are made, they allow us to take part in shaping them and provide us with the information we need to examine and challenge their choices.
They make it easier for you to play a watchdog role and use your experience as citizens to help shape the infrastructure and services they deliver – the things you use!
The public need to be well informed about public money and resources and the decisions government makes. That’s vital if we’re to play this more active role. But open government isn’t just about information. Open governments make sure they work closely with citizens to achieve outcomes that work better for us all. It’s not only about citizens being able to play a more active watchdog role, it’s about making sure that citizens are invited to be part of the original decision making process.
Let’s come at this from an organisation’s point of view.
You’re a charity that works hard to protect and improve the situation of your members or the clients you represent. Perhaps government is developing a national strategy that will have an impact on your work and those you speak with and for. Maybe you’re calling for more funding for certain services or infrastructure projects.
An open government would look to use your organisation’s and your client’s experience to work collaboratively to develop that strategy, together. It would make it easier for you to understand where government money flows, meaning that your organisation and many others would benefit from being able to better examine and suggest alternatives to the choices currently made. Even better, you’d be part of the decision making process in the first place.
This becomes even more important when different sectors and sections of government must work together on complex policy issues, such as housing and health in supporting older people to live at home for longer. The knowledge, skills and experience of both sectors can be put to best use if we fully understand the current situation and have key roles in developing a way forward.
Being an open government is a commitment to being an honest and responsive government. Being a member of the Open Government Partnership is a promise from government to challenge itself in relation to how it works better for people. Scotland’s next Open Government Action Plan provides the clearest opportunity to collaborate with government to shape the future of how our Government works.
Whether you choose to stay informed about open government, have a say on what you’d like to see in Scotland’s next action plan or collaborate with us to develop the plan, you can be sure that open government really does matter to you.