News and Comment

Open Government Speed Dating. Yes really.

Monday 25 November 2013

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In 2011, 8 countries launched a Declaration that they would each commit to promote transparency, fight corruption and strengthen governance by empowering citizens. In 2013 that group has become the Open Government Partnership, with 62 member countries and over 1,200 delegates from civil society, business and government gathered in London to share early successes and set new goals. The summit, held at the beginning of November, was feted as offering many things to many people – international governments would sign up to tough commitments on transparency, civil society would hold those governments to account, no less a luminary than the Chief Innovation Officer of the World Bank described it as an opportunity to revolutionise the relationship between citizens and their leaders.

Alongside all the high level political activity the OGP Summit offered a space for those engaged in the practice of opening up government to meet and share ideas. DbyD went along to run a series of speed dating sessions, aiming to match up people with complementary aspirations and tools for open government. Our aim was to get people sharing ideas and developing relationships in ways that could contribute to making open government a practical reality. In our experience there are few problems that aren’t being worked on by someone, somewhere, but finding that person, or even knowing how to describe the problem in a way that they recognise can be a really challenge.

Luckily not everyone was put off by the prospect of speed dating at an international governmental summit and we paired up over thirty people during the course of two hour long sessions. One of the most striking things that emerged from the sessions was the variety of ideas people had as well as the sophisticated tools available to make these ideas a reality.

Here are just a few examples:

Supporting public services with open data:

Dave Tong from ESRI UK, a company that designs geographic information systems, and Debbie Wills from Rewired State, who organise hack-days (collaborative software development events to you and me), shared practical ideas about the potential for mapping software to support on the ground work by emergency services – which reminded us of this great project from the Open Data Institute mapping the impacts of potential fire station closures in London.

Opening up public finances:

Ian Magkill, from Spend Network, built a web interface allowing anyone to access information about £878,596,221,912 (and counting…) of UK government spending. He talked to Elena Mondo, from the International Budget Partnership, an international organisation delivering training and support to governments to help transparency in budgets. They exchanged ideas on how open data can help to overcome the challenges of achieving transparency in public finances – one of the key themes of this year’s summit.

There was a plethora of other topics ranging from improving participation in public policy making, creating closer links between the public, private and third sectors in service delivery, as well as increasing the voice of marginalized communities. This really brings up the breadth of the open government agenda; it has the potential to contribute to so many other policy areas. That breadth might also be its biggest challenge, as incoming OGP head Kuntoro Mangkusubroto said “Most people don’t really care about open government for its own sake” – the OGP needs to make the case for openness with real world examples of tangible benefits. The OGP itself seems to recognise this supporting role, using the summit to showcase international successes via its Bright Spots competition – but there’s still much work to do done to make this more concrete.

Lucy Farrow is a Project Manager at OPM’s sister company Dialogue by Design