Provide More Transparent Meeting Information and Minutes. (SEO0004)
Action Plan: Seoul, Korea Action Plan
Action Plan Cycle: 2017
Lead Institution: NA
Support Institution(s): All departments within the Seoul Metropolitan Government; The Center for Freedom of Information and Transparent Society, Center for Civic Awareness & Policy Making and Citizens' Action Network
Policy AreasCapacity Building, E-Government, Fiscal Openness, Local Commitments, Publication of Budget/Fiscal Information, Regulatory Governance
Issue to be Addressed: Currently, it is difficult for citizens to use the meeting information disclosure service without prior knowledge. Each department which manages committees has a different disclosure standard and method. Primary Objective: Increase the availability of information about committee meetings in which Seoul’s policies are discussed to improve citizens’ right-to-know and strengthen transparency and accountability of the Seoul Metropolitan Government. Short Description: Improve functions such as adding a separate menu to easily view committee meeting information related to the Seoul Metropolitan Government policy decision making, improving organization format and disclosure of meeting lists. Promote positive views on council department meeting disclosure by establishing meeting disclosure guidelines, staff education, and promotion to improve meeting disclosure rates. These will improve citizens’ right to know, transparency and accountability of the Seoul Metropolitan Government and eventually increase citizens’ interest in city administration which may increase policy participation and the role of citizens. OGP Challenge: Disclosing meeting information accessible to everyone is related to information accessibility, technological innovation for openness and responsibility, and creates public responsibility for disclosed information. In addition, interest in city administration through disclosed meeting information may lead to citizen participation.
IRM End of Term Status Summary
4. Provide more transparent meeting information and minutes.
Increase the accessibility of meeting information and the corresponding minutes of the Seoul Metropolitan Government and its related sub-committees by systematically re-organizing the meeting information disclosure service.
· Improve functions such as adding a separate menu to easily view committee meeting information related to the Seoul Metropolitan Government policy decision making, improving organization format and disclosure of meeting lists.
· Promote positive views on council department meeting disclosure by establishing meeting disclosure guidelines, staff education, and promotion to improve meeting disclosure rates.
· These will improve citizens’ right to know, transparency and accountability of the Seoul Metropolitan Government and eventually increase citizens’ interest in city administration which may increase policy participation and the role of citizens.
1. Produce and distribute meeting opening guidelines and encourage application of the guideline.
2. Improve functionality of the meeting opening website.
2.1. Opening the design and update plans and gathering user opinions
2.2 Figuring out improvements and complete website renewal
3. Hold open committee meetings to improve public servants’ awareness through education and promotion.
Overall Objective & Relevance
This commitment was proposed by Mr. Kang Sung-gook, a representative of the Center for Freedom of Information and Transparent Society, during the action plan formulation process. It addresses the issue of citizens’ right to know and right to information. The SMG is organized in general offices, bureaus and divisions. In total, there are 191 committees integrated in the structure of the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG), grouped in eleven categories: health, economy, transportation and construction, culture and tourism, welfare, tax and finance, safety, women and family, housing and urban planning, administration and others, and environment. These committees are in charge of making public policy in their specific area. The complete list of committees is available on the Seoul Information Communication Plaza website. http://opengov.seoul.go.kr/proceeding/clas_all?srchType=clasNm&p_cate_id=&items_per_page=50&search= Meeting information and minutes of these committees are not disclosed in a standardized manner, making it difficult for citizens to access information on government decision making. Accordingly, there is a lack of sufficient system that provides information on meeting minutes of various city committees in the city of Seoul. While the Seoul Information Communication Plaza (http://opengov.seoul.go.kr) serves to provide the City’s internal meeting and committee information including the minutes, it is hard to navigate the system and difficult for citizens to access the data without prior knowledge. As a result, according to the action plan and civil society actors, the citizens have difficulty in enjoying their right to information. The commitment addresses this problem by creating a standardized meeting disclosure guidelines and systems. In order to achieve this commitment, various activities have been planned and being implemented such as the production and distribution of the disclosure guidelines, improvement of disclosure websites, and awareness-raising education for public officials.
The SMG states that the overall objective is to “increase the availability of information about committee meetings in which Seoul’s policies are discussed to improve citizens’ right-to-know and strengthen transparency and accountability of SMG.” Thus, this commitment is relevant to the OGP value of access to information, considering that it aims to increase the amount of government-held information. In addition, among four OGP Grand Challenges, this commitment is related to the challenge No. 2 “Increasing Public Integrity” as disclosure of reliable information could potentially prevent corruption and strengthen public ethics in the governance.
Specificity and Potential Impact
In terms of specificity, this commitment received a “medium” mark as specific targets (all councils and committee under SMG) and methods (disclosure of all meeting information and minutes on the updated websites) are laid out in a clear language. The objective and timeline are also specific. However, the commitment does not specify what type of information would be requested of committees to publish, which limits its measurability.
As pointed out by an expert and CSO representative from the Center for Freedom of Information and Transparent Society, the way that the SMG currently shares the information is ‘one-sided’, making it difficult to understand all government information and data in a holistic way. In addition, when searching for specific information, “[the data] is provided in a bulletin-style format, forcing individual users to rely on search results and not being able to look for certain information in the way they want.” Article by Ms. Jin Im Jung at a Korean NGO, the Center for Freedom of Information and Transparent Society, 7 September 2017, http://www.opengirok.or.kr/4521?category=218086 The same article was included in the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s 2016 Information Disclosure Annual Report, available at http://opengov.seoul.go.kr/paper/13124456#pdfview As such, many users only retrieve the information that shows up in search results, which limits the accessibility of the new data.
If fully implemented, it could bring about a moderate change in government practice or in the lives of Seoul citizens as they would potentially be allowed to look up important government-held information relevant to their lives or interests on any city council meetings on the Internet. However, the impact is limited in scope as it does call for the installment of a strict rule and a detailed explanation of consequences when minutes and other information from the closed meetings are not shared with the public.
The status of completion for commitment #4 is overall complete.
Milestone #1, “Produce and distribute meeting opening guidelines and encourage application of the guideline,” is completed. The evidence is written in the 2017 Information Disclosure Manual (pages 111-131). 2017 Seoul City Information Disclosure Manual, uploaded on 24 February 2017, http://opengov.seoul.go.kr/public/11261699 and the Seoul City internal document from mayor that announces the opening (11 September 2017) of the improved webpage of the Seoul Information Communication Plaza website (5 September 2017) http://opengov.seoul.go.kr/sanction/13166958 In terms of timing assessment, it was delayed from its expected month of March to September 2017.
Milestone #2, “Improve functionality of the meeting opening website,” was on time and completed in September and October meeting the October deadline. The actual webpage can be found on the Seoul Information Communication Plaza website. Seoul Information Communication Plaza website http://opengov.seoul.go.kr and Seoul Information Communication Plaza, meeting information disclosure http://opengov.seoul.go.kr/proceeding/list For example, the access route to find meeting information, it required to click eight separate menus and submenus previously. After the implementation, it now takes five steps. However, civil society organizations pointed out that SMG should disclose more high-level meeting minutes and recent information. Nevertheless, although there are still improvements to be made, this milestone was completed as was written in the action plan text.
Milestone #3, “Hold open committee meetings to improve public servants’ awareness through education and promotion,” was completed.
During the year of implementation, actual changes on the Seoul’s information disclosure website have been made where it became easier to look for particular information on the Seoul Information Communication Plaza website. First of all, the steps taken to find meeting minutes has been reduced from eight clicks to five clicks from the initial access to the website. Second, the information and results of the same meetings have now been grouped so that it’s easier to locate minutes of a certain meeting. Thirdly, the section “meeting information” has now been listed on the top menu, instead of being under a sub menu. All these changes have been documented in an official document submitted by SMG. Please refer to the file [Seoul_Commitment4_Additional Info.hwp] on the IRM Library” https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1QMeyvOaBmmK4tAtU5MBVwXQpVUDp2Zc- and see Seoul City internal document that reports on the additional training for officials on meeting information disclosure which took place on 29 August 2017 (1 September 2017) http://opengov.seoul.go.kr/sanction/13134554
It is important to note that the lack of specificity of this commitment led to opposed views on what information should have been disclosed as a result of this commitment. SMG and civil society made conflicting evaluations for the completion statuses, since CSOs considerd the government should have further improved the website and disclose more information. However, as written in the action plan, the IRM researcher considers that milestones were fulfilled. The low ambition stymied the results and possible improvements in open government, as explained below.
Early results: did it open government?
Access to information: Marginal
Under the aim of increasing citizens’ right to information by disclosing more council meeting minutes, three milestones were to be finished by March, October and December 2017 respectively. As mentioned above, in terms of potential impact, it will bring about a marginal change as citizens would be allowed to look up any information relevant to their lives or interests on any city council meetings in a more streamlined design. The government practice has changed in a way that it is opening up more information on city council meetings and it encouraged its officials to follow the initiative. However, it did not meet the standards of CSO participants.
For instance, completion of Milestone #2 improved the functionality of the main information disclosure website, however, according to CSO in the sub group for the implementation of this commitment, there is still need for much improvement. It was mentioned during the fifth consultative group meeting that the civil society’s request for the strengthened access to city council meeting minutes in accordance with the ordinance on information disclosure has not been made and much is missing. The latest information made public on division chiefs meetings and other regular senior official meetings is from 2013 and 2014, thus more recent information should be disclosed. It was also pointed out by civil society members that the main meeting minutes of high importance must be disclosed to make effective changes. Because of this, the IRM researcher considers that this commitment only led to marginal changes. Much has yet to be done, however, citizens now have access to meeting minutes regarding issues that affect them.
1. Engage with civil society to determine the range of information to be disclosed under the commitment.
For the IRM researcher, as shown on the completion assessment, there is still a big gap between the government and civil society as to how much information and what types of meetings should be disclosed to the public. SMG should decide on the range of information by mutual consent and determine it specifically through an active dialogue with civil society.
2. Promote the information disclosure website to general citizens more effectively.
While recommendation 1 is more relevant to civil society groups that work on information disclosure and government accountability, recommendation 2 concerns ordinary citizens that have little understanding of how government is opening up its meeting information. SMG should promote the change in government practice to benefit the citizens and encourage them to visit, search, and find useful meeting information that they once had no access to.
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