Meeting: Open Government Partnership EAP meeting
Date: 16 May 2023
Time: 12.30- 2.30
EAP members: Suzanne Snively, Farib Sos, Rachel Roberts and Simon Wright and Sarah Colcord (both online)
Te Kawa Mataaho OGP team (TKM): Dean Rosson (manager), Cathy Adank and Christine Lloyd (online)
Apologies: Sean Audain, Tula Garry
Topics for discussion
- Kāpuia meeting
- Officials met with Kāpuia, and the community engagement tool was discussed.
- Holistic engagement training
- Rachel emphasised the importance of engagement training for the public service and that the engagement tool is only one aspect. Inspiring Communities is developing a joined-up, holistic training programme on engagement with DIA and IPANZ that combines a toolbox together with other aspects of community engagement and includes capability-building elements.
- MSF research and CSO workshop
- The MSF survey has gone out to 20+ countries and responses received to date had been positive. Other countries are interested in the results. CSOs were interviewed as part of the MSF research. They were frustrated by the OGP process, the level of political support and lack of resource.
- NAP4 Report-back
- The NAP Report back will now take place on 30th June. Invitations are being prepared to go out later this week. A moderator has agreed to moderate.
- EAP request to prioritise OGP discussion.
- EAP members raised including OGP in the BIM as a priority and whether EAP could meet to discuss the future direction of OGP with Peter Hughes.
Discussion of MSF strawman continued:
- Refer to Notes below.
Discussion Notes for MSF
The meeting discussion raised important issues and potential options. The discussions have been summarised and grouped under the following headings and covered:
- MSF and the Public – increasing understanding of the role and work of government alongside the concerns the public.
- The challenges of government, government incentives, direct communications and funding and decision-making powers
- Transparency, government support and powers
- Government support
- MSF Decision-making
- Funding the MSF
- Governance models – existing and new
- MSF Accountability
- MSF networking and capability- building functions
It was agreed that the composition, role and functions of the MSF are critically important to get right.
- Needs to attract a range of people, including younger people and use appropriate and effective communication. Civil society hasn’t been representative of our diverse population, and this needs to change.
- Members needed to exhibit consensus-seeking behaviours and be comfortable with including diverse perspectives.
- It was important to set up the MSF processes so that all its members are heard, regardless of whether introvert or extrovert and include neurodiversity to cater for all. This could involve building in reflective practises into meeting and discussion processes and using facilitated conversations.
- Good decision-making processes are fundamental to an effective MSF. Processes could include a circuit-breaker mechanism/vote of confidence.
- Agreed that a code of ethics or code of conduct ought to be put in place as a guide for MSF members’ conduct. The code of conduct could be framed up in advance and MSF members must agree to the terms of engagement, to allow different voices and perspectives to be aired and considered.
MSF and the Public – increasing understanding of the role and work of government alongside the concerns of the public.
- It was important that an MSF understands how government works and behaves.
- Discussed, what is happening in the public service in terms of policy and work programmes very important context for the MSF’s work. Including senior public servants, such as system leads, in the MSF would keep the MSF informed about public service work programmes and priorities.
- The public doesn’t understand what the public service does. A related imperative is to better inform the public about the work that the public service does. Options included an open government website, agency websites and TV. Disseminating government information needs to consider both increasing public trust and safeguarding appropriate confidentiality.
- OGP is an opportunity for the government to communicate and find out what is concerning the community. OGP is a vehicle to bring together government and citizens so that diverse voices can be heard.
- Recognised that OGP can’t address all issues however it’s important that the MSF can do priority-setting and take a longer-term, apolitical view of what needs to be done.
- OGP rules provide a structure; Action Plans are the opportunity to look at citizen concerns and to prioritise them; there is currently too much emphasis by OGP on idea generation and commitment implementation rather than setting an overall agenda/plan for open government goals in addition to awareness-raising and education.
The challenges of government, government incentives, direct communications and funding and decision-making powers
Transparency, government support and powers
- Current challenges included lack of transparency around government/Ministers’ decision-making, the fact that OGP work was on top of business as usual for agencies and that OGP commitments did not attract discrete funding.
- There was a need for a new MSF to recognize the differences in the roles and the power of parties in the MSF: OGP sets a 50/50 split between government and the public however in practise there were real challenges to this power-sharing ideal. I.e.
- Typically, CSOs do all the talking while government officials do not express an opinion or are reluctant to, whether it is because officials are acting as government representatives and/or do not have a mandate to express any views on behalf of their agency. This is a significant loss/cost to having free and frank discussions where both parties can freely contribute. Limitations on officials’ role is in stark contrast with Ministers, who are free to speak their mind.
- The form, function and rules of the MSF ought to support direct communications as much as possible. Using officials to (indirectly) relay the public voice to Ministers can inevitably cause translation issues. A new MSF ought to provide a model for direct communications between government and the public/civil society, leading to improved governance in general.
- One (process) option was to flip OGP model on its head and get a clear steer from government on its priorities as the starting point for ideas generation and an OGP discussion, recognising that the starting point is not a blank canvas. There are a number of sources of information about what concerns the public e.g., a weekly poll by PM’s department. There are other community polls and research about public concerns to inform ideas generation; need to avoid duplicating the work of others while keep seeking citizen voice.
- Government support of OGP and Action Plans was imperative. Changing the incentives for Ministers in relation to OGP could improve OGP engagement – possibly generating a halo effect for Minsters from both sides of the House. Options must be put to Ministers of not continuing with OGP or else funding and prioritising OGP.
- Incentives to priorities open government included that and open government mitigates against the breakdown of democracy. There was a risk of government complacency in relation to our democracy and complex political incentives, including seeking re-election, getting in the way. NZ is falling behind on international measures and the legitimacy of government cannot be assumed.
- There was a live question as to how to re-balance the incentives of the political system to find a middle ground that supported change and a structural response to OGP in order to strengthen democracy. Parliament and Cabinet processes are not suitable for OGP and are not going to change.
- All agreed it was necessary to get the government’s buy-in in advance of developing NAPs and engage early with the Ministers and pursue OGP proactively not reactively.
- MSF ought to have some decision rights, even if it is limited to deciding what items would go up to Ministers to consider. Important that the MSF was not just working in an advisory capacity (a talking shop) but played a decision-making role.
- Go to Minister and engage early, put ideas, and get Minister’s buy-in.
Funding the MSF
- It was important that MSF members were paid, to reflect their time, expertise, and the value they bring.
- Payment increased equity through enabling access to participate in the MSF and publicly signifies the importance of the work e.g., just like many other board members.
- Relying on volunteers for MSF membership would narrow the interest and limit the diversity of representation achieved.
- Noted that other countries are funding engagement for open government. The Scottish government had allocated a 25M pound fund for engagement.
- Alongside an independent appointee to report to (see below), a dedicated funding pool or appropriation for OGP would provide the resources to pursue long-term OGP priorities and avoid the need to continuously go through Cabinet e.g., GOPAC model.
Governance models – existing and new
- Agreed there needed to be a division between the secretariat and MSF functions.
- It was noted that with any change to the MSF and OGP processes. there was the option of starting small and then expanding, continuously improving, adapting to the changing context.
- Potential (for an MSF) governance models involving equity at the table were discussed, along with budget. Examples included Auckland Council’s participatory engagement unit and a Taupo example that was based on Treaty rights.
- The strong preference was for the MSF to report to a suitably mandated, independent role- holder, rather than a Minister, to enable a cross-party, unified Government approach to pursue OGP initiatives. Options discussed included the Speaker, the Auditor-General, the Ombudsman and the Governor-General.
MSF networking and capability- building functions
- Sarah discussed an example of changing a Council’s engagement work, seeking public input on an emergency budget that realised great results (2,000 in one week) and demonstrated that being willing to go outside the status quo enabled the citizen voice to be heard. It was noted that, in addition, the public communications need to:
- use the right medium i.e., digital, online as opposed to using email and letters – a budget was needed to build a digital online tool to gather the submissions.
- use the right language – communicated at a human level with school students and empowered them to participate.
- be championed – young (existing) ambassadors were trained in the use of the tool and questions and tasked with collecting submissions using their networks. Incentives to reach KPIs included payment. Champions also benefitted/ were empowered by training.
- Building capability is a valuable by-product of reaching out through champions/networks. Youth Networks provided a massive existing resource. Examples include Waikato and Boys and Girls Institute. The networking role of “connectors”. “translators” and “weavers” were discussed and the importance of the citizen voice going up the chain rather than the communications being passed down.