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New OGP IRM Report For UK Finds Minimum Standards Were Not Met

As a co-founder of OGP, the United Kingdom has been a global leader on open government and anti-corruption efforts, implementing four open government action plans to date. However, the Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) has completed its review of the UK’s most recent action plan, finding that it has failed to meet minimum standards that are required when developing an OGP action plan. 

The IRM report, which ​​provides an independent technical review of the action plan found that there was one promising commitment and that several new topics were addressed. But, the IRM found that the government did not provide its reasoning behind why certain priorities, ideas or activities proposed by non-government stakeholders were or were not included in the UK’s 2021-23 OGP Action Plan, or how the public’s feedback was used to shape the plan before it was finalized in late 2021. 

This is the third consecutive action plan cycle in which the UK fails to meet the minimum requirements. The UK was placed under Procedural Review in February 2021 due to acting contrary to process for two consecutive action plan cycles (late delivery of its 2018-2020 action plan, and not meeting the minimum standards during co-creation of its 2019-21 action plan).The Criteria & Standards (C&S) Subcommittee will discuss the findings of this report and review the UK’s participation status in OGP when it meets in mid-October. 

Key Findings from the Action Plan Review

The UK’s fifth action plan builds on previous efforts in open contracting, health sector transparency, and international illicit finance, while also pursuing new areas of open justice and algorithmic transparency and accountability. The co-creation process kicked off at a stakeholder meeting in December 2020. Government and civil society participants agreed to explore nine themes as potential commitments and working groups were formed around each theme. The theme of anti-corruption and international illicit finance (Commitment 5) did not have a working group. Instead, the Cabinet Office drew upon ongoing work from the UK’s chairmanship of the G7. 

The level of engagement in the working groups varied by theme, but the Government Point of Contact (PoC) noted that engagement was stronger than under the previous action plan. Membership of, and discussions in, the working groups were kept flexible. This approach produced mixed results. For some themes, stakeholders had clear expectations from past commitments that allowed them to quickly reach a consensus on deliverables (i.e., open contracting). For new themes, discussions were less focused due to lack of past experience in OGP processes (i.e., open justice). Some themes were excluded because the working groups could not agree on a set of draft activities that the Cabinet Office considered workable (i.e., natural resources/climate change and standards and public life). The PoC noted that it was challenging in some working groups to achieve a balance between having a diversity of views and the necessary expertise in the topics. Meanwhile, both civil society and the PoC felt that not having the right people at the discussions, either in terms of thematic expertise or decision-making authority, made co-creation more difficult. Nonetheless, both the PoC and the UK Open Government Network (OGN) chair acknowledged that their counterpart remained dedicated to the process, despite external constraints (there were several ministerial turnovers at the Cabinet Office during the co-creation period) and limited resources (the OGN chair and other civil society stakeholders had volunteered their time to organize civil society participation).

The draft commitments were sent for ministerial approval in late 2021, before their adoption and submission to OGP. At this stage, many commitments had activities removed or significantly reduced in ambition, without further explanation or consultation with non-government stakeholders. For example, the commitment on international illicit finance saw the removal of a key activity around the Economic Crime Bill, while the commitment on algorithmic transparency and accountability was reduced to “gauging the feasibility” of mapping existing appeal mechanisms. Civil society contacted by the IRM confirmed that they were not informed by the government about why these changes were made or how the final decisions for the commitments were arrived at. Consequently, the IRM assessed that the government did not provide a reasoned response on how the public’s feedback was used to shape the action plan. After the publication of the action plan, the OGN put out a statement criticizing the last-minute changes and what they saw as a failure of the government to engage civil society on key areas of reform.

Before the end of August, the IRM report recommends using the opportunity afforded to OGP members to amend their action plans. The UK government and the OGN could work together to revive the working groups (with targeted civil society participation), to agree on amendments to the existing commitments that were removed or altered and revisit the themes that were not covered in the action plan (such as freedom of information, natural resources/climate change, and standards in public life). It may also be beneficial to formalize the multi-stakeholder forum to bring more stability and consistency to the discussions.

The full Action Plan Review can be accessed here

Next Steps

The UK was placed under Procedural Review in February 2021 due to acting contrary to process for two consecutive action plan cycles (late delivery of its 2018-2020 action plan, and not meeting the minimum standards during co-creation of its 2019-21 action plan). Procedural Review ​​involves enhanced support by the Support Unit and Steering Committee to help address the issues that have led to the review. 

To conclude this review, the UK had to meet the minimum co-creation standards in its 2021-23 action plan, as assessed by the IRM in the Action Plan Review (APR). Based on the 2021-23 APR summarized above, the UK has not met the minimum standards during co-creation of this action plan, and therefore has now acted contrary to process for a third consecutive action plan cycle. 

On June 28, 2022, the OGP Steering Committee approved changes to the Procedural Review protocols to align with the new Participation & Co-Creation Standards and timelines, as well as the new IRM reports resulting from the IRM Refresh. In line with the Procedural Review protocols, if a country acts contrary to process on numerous occasions and in different ways, the C&S Subcommittee may, in consultation with the Support Unit, recommend that the country be designated as “inactive” in OGP.  The C&S Subcommittee will only recommend inactivity automatically when a country fails to deliver an action plan for three consecutive years.

The UK currently remains under Procedural Review. This review can be concluded by meeting the minimum requirements during implementation of the 2021-23 action plan, as assessed by the IRM in the action plan’s Results Report, to be published within four months after completing its implementation. The C&S Subcommittee will review and discuss the UK’s participation status in OGP when it meets in October 2022. 

Useful links

United Kingdom OGP country webpage 

United Kingdom IRM Action Plan Review 2021-2023

United Kingdom IRM Transitional Results Report 2019-2021

United Kingdom IRM Design Report 2019-2021

 

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