United Kingdom End-of-Term Report 2016-2018 (Year 2)

IRM Report

Ben Worthy, Birkbeck College, University of London

Overview

Table 1: At a Glance
Mid-term
End of term
Number of Commitments
27         27
Level of Completion
Completed
2
12
Substantial
12
10
Limited
13
5
Not Started
0
0
Number of Commitments with…
Clear Relevance to OGP Values
26
26
Transformative Potential Impact
3
3
Substantial or Complete Implementation
14
22
All Three (✪)
2
2
Did It Open government?
Major
4
Outstanding
0
Moving Forward
Number of Commitments Carried Over to Next Action Plan
N/A

Commitments in the United Kingdom’s (UK) third action plan have lowered ambition in relation to previous OGP cycles. The plan included commitments from all the nations of the UK, but institutional change and political context in the country have impacted its level of completion.

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is a voluntary international initiative that aims to secure commitments from governments to their citizenry to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. The Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) carries out a review of the activities of each OGP-participating country. This report summarizes the results of the period October 2017 to May 2018 and includes some relevant developments up to October 2018.

The UK plan is made up of separate parts, reflecting the make-up of Britain and its devolved governments. The action plan includes UK-wide commitments, as well as separate commitments for Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. For the UK-wide parts of the action plan, the UK Cabinet Office was responsible for coordinating OGP activities. The Office is well placed to coordinate the OGP agenda as it serves the Prime Minister and is the corporate lead for the UK government for important policy. The Scottish and Welsh Governments and Northern Irish Executive led on their respective commitments. The Brexit referendum on the UK leaving the EU, subsequent change of government and General Election all led to delays.

CSOs took part in the planning and implementation process through a CSO steering group elected by the UK Open Government Network (OGN) with separate networks in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The OGN consists of more than 2,000 members, including civil society, developers, academics, journalists and citizens. Civil society groups were involved in the action plan development as well as in the implementation period.

At the time of this report, final self-assessment reports from the UK governments were being drafted. In September 2018, the UK government had published a draft set of commitments for its 2018-2020 action plan but stated clearly that these were simply points for consultation and not a set series of commitments.

Consultation with Civil Society during Implementation

Countries participating in OGP follow a process for consultation during development and implementation of their action plan.

As with the second action plan, the UK government worked closely with a range of CSOs. The public participation CSO Involve coordinated the civil society network.[Note 1: Involve is a UK charity focused on involving the public in decision making, https://www.involve.org.uk/] CSOs began consulting and developing ideas in advance of the formal development of the action plan through a series of quarterly meetings in London, though much work was done via listserves and open Google documents.

During the implementation itself, there were quarterly meetings between the CSO steering group and UK government leads, as well as engagement on an individual level.[Note 2: Opengovernment.org.uk, ‘About’, CSO network website 2017, http://www.opengovernment.org.uk/networks/uk/ The steering group are: Andy Williamson, Democratise;Colm Burns, NI Open Government Network;Gavin Freeguard, Institute for Government;Jess Blair, ERS Wales & Welsh Open Government Network;Lucy McTernan, Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) & Scotland Open ;Government Network;Martin Tisne, The Omidyar Network;Michelle Brook, The Democratic Society;Rachel Davies, Transparency International UK;Tim Davies, Practical Participation]

     There was also continued interaction between CSO and government leads for each commitment, though this decreased in some places. Meetings were open and regular and online consultations were publicised. In Wales and Northern Ireland, there were communication and meetings between civil society groups and governments there. Scotland also had regular interaction (though this was also related to the sub-national pioneer commitments) and hosted a meeting of UK-wide governments and CSOs in April 2018.

Table 2: Consultation during Implementation

Regular Multistakeholder Forum
Midterm
End of Term
1. Did a forum exist?
Yes
Yes
2. Did it meet regularly?          
Yes
Yes

Table 3: Level of Public Influence during Implementation

The IRM has adapted the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) “Spectrum of Participation” to apply to OGP.[Note 3: Spectrum of Participation, http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.iap2.org/resource/resmgr/foundations_course/IAP2_P2_Spectrum_FINAL.pdf] This spectrum shows the potential level of public influence on the contents of the action plan. In the spirit of OGP, most countries should aspire for “collaborative.”

Level of Public Influence during Implementation of Action Plan
Midterm
End of Term
Empower
The government handed decision-making power to members of the public.
 
 
Collaborate
There was iterative dialogue AND the public helped set the agenda.
Involve
The government gave feedback on how public inputs were considered.
 
 
Consult
The public could give inputs.
 
 
Inform
The government provided the public with information on the action plan.
 
 
No Consultation
No consultation
 
 

About the Assessment

The indicators and method used in the IRM research can be found in the IRM Procedures Manual.[Note 4: IRM Procedures Manual, http://www.opengovpartnership.org/about/about-irm] One measure, the “starred commitment” (✪), deserves further explanation due to its interest to readers and usefulness for encouraging a race to the top among OGP-participating countries. Starred commitments are considered exemplary OGP commitments. To receive a star, a commitment must meet several criteria:

  • Starred commitments will have “medium” or “high” specificity. A commitment must lay out clearly defined activities and steps to make a judgment about its potential impact.
  • The commitment’s language should make clear its relevance to opening government. Specifically, it must relate to at least one of the OGP values of Access to Information, Civic Participation, or Public Accountability.
  • The commitment would have a "transformative" potential impact if completely implemented.[Note 5: The International Experts Panel changed this criterion in 2015. For more information, visit http://www.opengovpartnership.org/node/5919.]
  • The government must make significant progress on this commitment during the action plan implementation period, receiving an assessment of "substantial" or "complete" implementation.

Starred commitments can lose their starred status if their completion falls short of substantial or full completion at the end of the action plan implementation period. 

In the midterm report, the United Kingdom action plan contained two starred commitments. At the end of term, based on the changes in the level of completion, United Kingdom’s action plan contained two starred commitments.

Finally, the tables in this section present an excerpt of the wealth of data the IRM collects during its reporting process. For the full dataset for the United Kingdom, see the OGP Explorer at www.opengovpartnership.org/explorer.

About “Did It Open Government?”

To capture changes in government practice, the IRM introduced a new variable “Did It Open Government?” in end-of-term reports. This variable attempts to move beyond measuring outputs and deliverables to looking at how the government practice has changed as a result of the commitment’s implementation.

As written, some OGP commitments are vague and/or not clearly relevant to OGP values but achieve significant policy reforms. In other cases, commitments as written appear relevant and ambitious, but fail to open government as implemented. The “Did It Open Government” variable attempts to captures these subtleties.

The “Did It Open Government?” variable assesses changes in government practice using the following spectrum:

  • Worsened: Government openness worsens as a result of the commitment.
  • Did not change: No changes in government practice.
  • Marginal: Some change, but minor in terms of its effect on level of openness.
  • Major: A step forward for government openness in the relevant policy area but remains limited in scope or scale.
  • Outstanding: A reform that has transformed “business as usual” in the relevant policy area by opening government.

To assess this variable, researchers establish the status quo at the outset of the action plan. They then assess outcomes as implemented for changes in government openness.

Readers should keep in mind limitations. IRM end-of-term reports are prepared only a few months after the implementation cycle is completed. The variable focuses on outcomes that can be observed in government openness practices at the end of the two-year implementation period. The report and the variable do not intend to assess impact because of the complex methodological implications and the time frame of the report.

Commitment Implementation

General Overview of Commitments

As part of OGP, countries are required to make commitments in a two-year action plan. The tables below summarize the completion level at the end of term and progress on the “Did It Open Government?” metric. For commitments that were complete at the midterm, the report will provide a summary of the progress report findings but focus on analysis of the ‘Did It Open Government?’ variable. For further details on these commitments, please see the United Kingdom’s IRM progress report 2017.

The commitments included in the UK’s third national action plan were structured around four priority areas:

  • Fiscal transparency
  • Tackling corruption
  • Improving transparency around government and elections
  • Investing in national information infrastructure.[Note 6: UK Open Government National Action Plan 2016-18, p. 6-7, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-open-government-national-action-plan-2016-18/uk-open-government-national-action-plan-2016-18]