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United Kingdom Design Report 2019-2021

The United Kingdom (UK)’s fourth action plan largely continues the themes from previous plans, and includes commitments to open up data, participation and policy-making processes. Political uncertainty during the co-creation process due to the ongoing Brexit negotiations delayed finalisation of the action plan and limited the scope of the commitments. For the next action plan, the UK could consider ensuring timely responses to freedom of information requests, as well as public oversight of public procurement and contracts related to COVID-19 response and recovery.

Table 1. At a glance

Participating since: 2011

Action plan under review:     Fourth

Report type: Design

Number of commitments:  8

 

Action plan development

Is there a multistakeholder forum:         No

Level of public influence:             Consult

Acted contrary to OGP process:           Yes

 

Action plan design

Commitments relevant to OGP values:     8 (100%)

Transformative commitments:                    0

Potentially starred commitments:                 0

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is a global partnership that brings together government reformers and civil society leaders to create action plans that make governments more inclusive, responsive, and accountable. The Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) monitors all action plans to ensure governments follow through on commitments. The UK joined OGP in 2011. Since, the UK has implemented three action plans. This report evaluates the design of the UK’s fourth action plan.

General overview of action plan

The UK continues to be a global leader in many open government areas, though the uncertainty around the UK’s departure from the EU (Brexit) effected the scope and ambition of the fourth action plan. The commitments build on previous plans, and include new initiatives intended to open up data, participation and policy-making processes.

Civil society stakeholders engaged in the co-creation process through participation in the Open Government Network (OGN) and proposed commitments to the Cabinet Office and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. However, political uncertainty and changes in government delayed the submission of the final action plan, which ultimately included only a few civil society proposals. Future processes could benefit from greater cross-departmental coordination within the government and the provision of specific feedback on how stakeholder proposals were considered.

Largely due to the reduced capacity of government officials and civil servants during the co-creation period, most of the commitments in the fourth action plan are somewhat limited in scope or simply continue from previous plans. However, some notable commitments include publishing more granular data on government contracts and in the Open Contracting Data Standard format (Commitment 4), and piloting “Area Democracy Forums” (citizen assemblies) in local authorities (Commitment 6).

Table 2. Noteworthy commitments

Commitment description Moving forward Status at the end of implementation cycle
Commitment 4: Open contracting data

 

Publish in open format a greater volume of contracts data so that all above-threshold public contracts can be tracked from planning to final spending.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the IRM recommends the UK government publish granular data in relation to supply chains and invest in more international partnerships to increase the transparency of end-to-end supply chains, including where beneficial ownership lies. Note: this will be assessed at the end of the action plan cycle.
Commitment 6: Innovation in democracy programme

 

Carry out pilot “Area Democracy Forums” in select local authorities to empower citizens to deliberate and impact local policy development and delivery.

During implementation, the IRM recommends embedding feedback mechanisms within the citizen assemblies to ensure participants receive detailed responses from local officials on how their input was considered. The IRM also recommends developing and utilising digital engagement platforms to continue innovation in citizen participation. Note: this will be assessed at the end of the action plan cycle.

 

Recommendations

IRM recommendations aim to inform the development of the next action plan and guide implementation of the current action plan. Please refer to Section V: General Recommendations for more details on each of the below recommendations.

Table 3. Five KEY IRM Recommendations

Improve communication with civil society throughout the co-creation process and publish feedback to major civil society proposals received
Increase cross-ministerial direction and input to enable greater collaboration across departments during co-creation and standardise commitment language
Amend the Freedom of Information Act to ensure timely responses to information requests and extend its scope to cover private entities that provide public services
Consider including a commitment to ensure effective public oversight over contracts and public procurement related to COVID-19 response and recovery
Continue standardising information at the local level to improve access

Disclaimer: According to the UK’s fourth action plan, the organisation mySociety will be involved in the implementation of Commitment 6 (“Innovation in democracy programme”). Because Rebecca Rumbul, the IRM researcher, is an employee of mySociety, and to avoid potential conflict of interest, IRM staff carried out the assessment of Commitment 6 in this Design Report.

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