You may have heard about the Open Government Partnership. It may seem a bit distant to your core work – something the democracy boffins should worry about. But a more transparent, accountable and participative government is the ideal partner to a thriving voluntary sector.

So, why should you care?

  • It makes our governments’ activity or inactivity around engaging and being otherwise upfront and open with their citizens very visible, not just to their own country but to the world.
  • As it’s signed by government ministers, it will galvanise and push agendas around openness through the civil service machinery that might otherwise get lost or deprioritised
  • Because of the requirement to co-produce actions and commitments with civil society, it can help us cut through vested interests. In turn we can organise and co-ordinate our ambitions with the people we engage for better democracy, human and environmental rights, responsive public services and participation by people in the decisions that affect them.
  • The Open Government Partnership is fast becoming the most important route to citizen’s influencing, holding governments to account and ensuring delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals. We have a global community to share and learn with.

Take the ‘named persons’ scheme. If our government had opened up the conversation to the people directly affected at the design stage, and not just engaged professionals and policy makers (including from our own sector), then we would quite likely not have had the costly, entrenched and damaging retrospective public debate we are having now.

The most valuable aspect of the Open Government Partnership is that governments can’t commit unless they work with citizens at the design stage. This is probably one of the only global initiatives that guarantees civil society (as the key vehicle for active citizens) an even footing with governments.

The real game changer is Scotland’s unique status within the global open government movement

There’s always been a strong international relevance to this project. When the UN launched the Sustainable Development Goals the key proponents realised that meeting these goals meant making government institutions a lot more transparent and open in order to build public trust.

Securing open government institutions is now built in as goal 17 out of the 18 goals. The Open Government Partnership is a shared project with 70 countries across the globe, rich and poor. Each has committed to putting in place two-year action plans to make their governments more open and participative.

The real game changer is Scotland’s unique status within the global open government movement. Both the UN and the Open Government Partnership have realised that most government action these days actually takes place below the nation state level.

As a result, they created a ‘subnational’ pioneer programme, in which Scotland has been chosen to be one of 15 localities around the world to pioneer its own action plan over the next two years. This is a unique opportunity to directly showcase the kind of relationship between government and citizens that Scotland wants to strive for on the global stage.

The Open Government movement is a priority area for SCVO over the coming year. We want to progress an open and inclusive approach, including through a collaborative wiki that anyone can get involved with.