What is our theory of change and channels of influence for open government in the UK?

Hi All,
I’ve been working on an analysis of the state of open government across the UK. It’s a work in progress. I’m taking a systems theory approach to this, to explore how all the various factors affecting open government interact within the UK. I’d value your thoughts and reflections on this.
Just to emphasise that this is a personal piece of work, and doesn’t represent the views of any group or organisation.

Thanks for this, and look forward to seeing as many of you as possible at the network’s Wednesday virtual meeting.

Best, Ruchir.

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Thanks Ruchir

This is v good!

Don’t forget about embarrassment and shame under the eye of public opinion.

The government doesn’t want the voting public to think it is involved in corruption.

Although some governments care more about honesty, integrity and public accountability than others.

All the best
David

David McBurney

Thanks @david.mcburney . I’ve added this.

Good work @Ruchirshah Really interesting. Maybe you could present at the next steering committee and we could bounce a few ideas / thoughts around?

Many thanks for the offer @KevinKeith.
Let’s bounce ideas around here first, and if there is enough interest, then maybe worth a conversation at the steering group. Best, Ruchir.

Very pleased you’re undertaking this analysis @Ruchirshah. A few reflections from my perspective:

  • Open gov platforms like this can be a constructive space to raise issues, share ideas and organise. This depends on relationships and trust that transcend people’s ‘roles’ (e.g. civil society representative, gov policy maker, 3rd sector support …)

  • There is a risk that open gov is a veneer or a theatre to signal transparency, and actual decision making happens in closed spaces (that is a well-tread path)

  • Do the current mechanisms of open gov exclude many from participation? To really harness the power of ‘mainstream’ comms and engagement takes a lot of resources, and my experience is that the current open gov platforms are currently run on a shoestring and maintained by a small number of dedicated volunteers, who are also juggling so much (happy to be wrong on this, if that’s not the case now)

  • There needs to be an openness to the apparent paradox of open spaces and safe spaces. Are there occasions where there needs to be some power balancing? (A topic that needs a lot more space to unpack!)

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Ruchir Shah

As an observer of the OGN, and in the same spirit of a personal piece of work, there is one glaring omission conspicuous by its absence, to wit: the PROCESS of decision-making. There are many references to data leading to better, informed decisions, but no mention anywhere of HOW it may be used when decisions are made, never mind making the best choice, regardless of the number of participants and their diverse, subjective viewpoints. Both sides of the divide need help. Active participants (decision-makers) need to be assured they have made the best choice, whilst those in whose name decisions are made (passive participants) need to understand (not necessarily agree) how the decision was reached (accountability). For this to happen, four elements, for each participant, are essential:

  1. Structured, common definition of the issue comprising criteria, options and weightings
  2. Populate every option for each criterion with merit/value-judgements using a universally understandable ‘language’,
  3. Weightings to express priorities/preferences, currently using standard percentage scale
  4. An innovative algorithm to process this data (alone or jointly with others) to produce the BEST option. Professors of Decision Theory have proclaimed it to be “ingeniously simple”

Thus we achieve cognitive inclusion (engagement and empowerment of all interested parties), using a universally understandable ‘language’ (psychologically safe and transparent) and all assured the best option has been identified (unity and commitment).

By focusing on the issue, not emotive, distorting irrelevances, it is discrimination-blind, non-partisan and egalitarian. Most important of all, the transparency invoked by this unique and innovative App is the most powerful governor available; it is all-pervading, yet benign. It is, we believe, the blueprint for deliberative/direct democracy, and, thereby, leading to safe devolution through its universal transparency.

A suitable decision for UK/EU referendum is an example in the public domain at www.eunicorn.uk (for clarity, that’s EUNICORN). Moreover, we intend to offer the App free of charge, forever (like www.) on a website free of commercial influences to ensure it stays beyond reproach. Once transparency is truly understood to include people’s views, priorities and the process of reaching a decision, then trust in democracy will be restored and rebuilt to the point of government of the people, by the people, for the people. How much more OPEN can it get?

Hope this helps you in your quest.

Kindest regards

Michael La Costa

Hey Ruchir,

Thanks a lot for this - really interesting and thought-provoking.

My main question (or maybe it’s more of a comment) about this comes back to a point I’ve been mulling on/over for a while now. While I’ve been around the UK Open Government Network for a while now, I don’t think the OGP NAP process itself should be the be all and end all of open government in the UK.

There are governments at many different levels with the ability to be more or less welcoming of participation (local authorities in all 4 nations, Combined Authorities in England), and all of these, as well as national governments have the ability to be better at transparency and accountability as well.

This diagram doesn’t show much to me about local government (other than Glasgow) and how change can be created there. It feels quite focussed on the OGP NAP processes (be those with central gov or part of local action plans). While these certainly provide a key moment to engage and can be incredibly useful for government reformers and civil society alike, I can see other moments and opportunities for influence outside of that… And indeed the first slide you show doesn’t include the NAP or talk at all about OGP formal structures.

But maybe I’m just overcomplicating things…

Very happy to chat more about these things :slight_smile:

Best wishes,
Michelle

Thanks @Michelle.
Just so I understand this right. Are you saying that our current approach to open government in the UK is too focused on the National Action Plan, and Multi-Stakeholder Forum processes. Or that we’ve got the balance right at the moment between NAP and non-NAP (including local focus), but the diagram is not capturing the current approach properly?

All this is a very useful discussion on how the overall system functions. It highlights for me the reason that Scotland put an action in the UK NAP designed to help us collectively create an effective, sustainable and learning open government eco system for national and local governments as well as civil society across the UK. The pandemic has curtailed action but in the first half of next year we hope that there will be opportunities to progress those discussions to happen.

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