[@OKau] Will the Open Government National Action Plan transform anything?

Rosie Williams BudgetAus at hotmail.com
Wed Mar 16 04:04:53 UTC 2016


I got some very useful feedback from an advocate within the social services sector yesterday which put me out of my misery in terms of understanding why it might be that the health and social services sector are less than enthusiastic about engaging with theOpen Government Partnership National Action Plan<http://ogpau.govspace.gov.au/>.

The advocate pointed out that she was already involved in more than one consultation and I think it is safe to assume these consultations are ones she is both familiar with and has her head across. Contrast this with the mystery of Australia’s first National Action Plan, announced during the Christmas holiday period late last year, with an interface and resources which are in no way intuitive and which takes quite some ‘getting across’ even for those of us who knew it was coming<https://www.openaustraliafoundation.org.au/2016/02/23/how-to-make-an-ogp-national-action-plan-commitment/>!

Gaining this new perspective on what participation in the NAP may look like to professional advocates prompted me to question why it was that I thought it was worth participating in. Why did I think the NAP was more powerful than existing consultations? Given there are many existing consultation mechanisms why does the NAP process exist at all? If I or someone else makes the effort to understand this new fangled process andsuggests a Commitment<http://ogpau.wikispaces.com/Commitments> or contributes to a goal, what certainty is there that this will make it into the National Action Plan: a 30% chance… a 50% chance… a 90% chance? Further to that, is there evidence from National Action Plans in other countries to confirm the transformative power of the Open Government Partnership?

It is questions such as these that impact the decisions people make about whether to invest time in a consultation. The existing resources do not shed much light on the kinds of details that allow one to evaluate how likely any input is to end up as policy. For example who is it that ends up making the decisions about what is in or out, what is funded or not? Do the agencies themselves decide if they are in or out of the NAP or if they are part of the NAP that they will agree to implement a Commitment? What role does government funding and the budget play in all this?

The formal response I got from the OGP last night to my recent request to include the Australian Institute of Health & Welfare in the NAP process did not clarify whether or not it is up to the agencies to decide for themselves if they are in or out, hence my tweet to the official hashtag #OGPAu to clarify:

"Another question for the OGP FAQ: is it up to agencies alone to decide if they agree to implement publicly sourced Commitments? #ogpau<https://twitter.com/hashtag/ogpau?src=hash>"

The AIHW is in my mind a very significant agency in terms of data that relates to policy and funding decisions crucial to many vulnerable groups in Australia. This is borne out in their role collecting the National Minimum Data Sets, a requirement of the National Partnership Agreements with the states, agreements which underpin the flow of funds from the Commonwealth to the states. This observation of mine is stated in the government’s own Gov 2.0 Taskforce Report<http://www.finance.gov.au/sites/default/files/Government20TaskforceReport.pdf?v=1> on page xiii

In this report we use many examples of information which is generated principally by state or local government agencies. While our direct mandate is from the Australian Government, we have interpreted that mandate broadly. While our recommendations are, strictly speaking, recommendations to the Australian Government, many of the principles developed apply at the state level and all states are exploring the Government 2.0 agenda, though some are further advanced on the journey than others. We feel the use of such examples is useful both because the states control much of the data that affects people’s lives most closely and because data collected by state agencies can and should often be the subject of national information agendas (as in the Council of Australian Governments’ (COAG) agendas in education and health).

The absence of the AIHW from the NAP<http://ogpau.govspace.gov.au/idc-24th-february/> takes some explaining yet it was yours truly who was asked to explain to the OGP why they should ask the AIHW to come on board, an interesting reversal of logic and accountability. Given the statement in the OGP FAQ that states and territories are ‘not bound by this agreement<http://ogpau.govspace.gov.au/national-action-plan/faqs/#How_can_state_and_local_governments_participate_in_the_planning_process_and_will_they_be_bound_by_the_Federal_OGP_National_Action_Plan>‘ and the importance of the states to delivery of the programs encompassed in the Grand Challenges ‘Improving public services’ and ‘More effectively managing public resources’ –it would seem even more important that Commonwealth agencies that collect data on behalf of national interests are included in the NAP.

Being late to the OGP party, Australia is not exactly blazing a trail in open government. This has the benefit of Australians being able to learn from what other countries have accomplished through their National Action Plans. Has UK democracy or policy been transformed by their NAPs<http://www.opengovpartnership.org/country/united-kingdom/action-plan>? Has America’s NAPs created much change for US citizens? Are the poor and vulnerable better off? Is government more accountable and responsive to needs? Are policy decisions better informed?

I’ve added some resources from countries further along in their open government journey that might help inform these questions and allow readers to better decide the potential impact of our own National Action Plan for Open Government.

Given that my input<http://ogpau.wikispaces.com/Commitments> into the NAP is based on my years of (uncompensated) work with open data as it relates to financial and political transparency and is based on the input I have received from my own consultations with health and social services advocates, I see no reason on the face of it why the government would exclude it from the National Action Plan other than as a result of a deliberate desire to go against the ideals of open government. I also observe however, that the less people and the fewer organisations that take a public interest in the drafting of the NAP, the easier it will be for such travesties to come to pass, resulting in a National Action Plan for Open Government that becomes what so many are afraid it might be: just another talk fest and business as usual.

  *   UK first to launch action plan on business & human rights<https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-first-to-launch-action-plan-on-business-and-human-rights>
  *   UK action plan on women, peace & security<https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/319870/FCO643_NAP_Printing_final3.pdf> (2014-2017)

One year ago at the UN General Assembly I stated a simple truth, that the strongest foundation for human progress lies in open economies, open societies and in open governance and I challenged our countries to come back this year with specific Commitments to promote transparency, to fight corruption, to energise civic engagement and to leverage new technologies so we can strengthen the foundation of freedom in our own countries. Barack Obama

We wanted to make sure the NAP would not end up as just another document which may be good to read or display on the bookshelf. Especially we didn’t want it to end up just another wishlist… it should make a difference.

I’m also very delighted to see that Great Britain has also mobilised the others to see the issue of sexual violence is critical to development. As a woman who has been working with women in conflict for the last 20 years, I say kudos!

Find the associated videos at https://openaus.net.au/blog/2016/03/16/will-the-open-government-national-action-plan-transform-anything/

Rosie Williams BA (Sociology)
 NoFibs.com.au<http://nofibs.com.au> - Open Data Reporter | OpenAus<https://openaus.net.au> - Founder and Developer

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