Open Government Partnership Scottish Action Plan

We developed Scotland's first open government action plan with the Scottish Civil Society Network using the Open Government Partnership (OGP).

This document is part of a collection

2. Open Government efforts to date

Open Government in Scotland - the context

Soon after taking office Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland said she wanted:

"An outward looking Government which is more open and accessible to Scotland's people than ever before" and for her Government and public services: 'to be known for the quality of our relationship with Scotland's communities'.

The Scottish Government is determined to deliver this ambition following the 3 main principles of the current Programme for Government. Which refers to the need to

  • deliver greater prosperity for the country through inclusive growth which creates opportunity for everyone and ensures that all segments of society benefit from economic growth
  • ensure fairness in the distribution of wealth, resources and opportunities
  • improve public services and make sure that people who live in Scotland are involved in decisions that matter to them most, particularly at this time of global uncertainty

Scotland is a devolved country with an established parliament and rule of law, currently the only sub-national government in the European Union to have a separate legal system from its state. Most of the issues covered by Open Government are devolved to Scotland and in a number of areas we have taken a distinctive approach. These include:

  • the commitment to involving people in the work of government
  • the approach we have taken to human rights and the rights of children
  • our commitment to continue to build and value the partnership of the private, third and voluntary sector to deliver reforms
  • actions on proactive publication, open procurement and public records, as well as on open data and open knowledge

Scotland benefits from a strong Civil Society, established trade unions, faith groups, third sector organisations and academic institutions as well as people who actively engage in public affairs. Work that received a welcome boost from the energy and levels of public interest in the future of Scotland in 2014 as a result of the debate that accompanied the referendum on Scotland's independence. Civil Society organisations work hard to focus energy and to build capacity in the third and voluntary sectors, support self-direction, co-production and community empowerment. There is a growing Open Government network of organisations and individuals who will use the Pioneer Year to strengthen and expand the understanding of Open Government.

Scotland's Open Government journey

We have developed a distinctive Scottish way of delivering government since the devolution of powers to a re-established Scottish Parliament in 1999. The importance of hearing the voice of stakeholders and citizens remains one of the key principles for both Parliament and Government and it forms a solid base for ground-breaking Open Government reforms that followed.

In 2007 the National Performance Framework ( NPF) was introduced. It sets out a single Purpose and an agreed set of National Outcomes for everyone in public service in Scotland. It provides a single clear vision for the kind of Scotland we want and a mechanism for the people of Scotland to track progress and see how our actions improve the quality of life for the people of Scotland. It uses a wide range of indicators to assess progress and these will now be reviewed to make sure people can also track progress towards Sustainable Development Goals and to deliver our human rights obligations.

In 2011, to respond responsibly to the global financial downturn, this Government commissioned an external review of public services. The Christie Commission took time to speak to people and their report was responded to by government with a strong commitment to reform Scotland's public services through; partnership; performance; people and underpinned by a decisive shift towards preventing harm. This work continues to set the priority for Scotland, with a strong emphasis on empowering communities and working across public services to deliver reforms that improve lives . The commitments in this Scottish Plan have these reforms at their core.

What underpins Open Government in Scotland?

Open Government in Scotland is underpinned by the values of openness, transparency and citizen participation.


Put simply openness is what makes modern networked societies work, giving people and organisations the information they need, when and in what format they need it. Scotland's Freedom of Information Act was one of the earliest Acts of the re-established Scottish Parliament. It recognises that the 'right to know' is a cornerstone of democratic engagement. The Act helps government to improve, and people to actively engage in, government decision-making as well as ensuring public services are held to account for their policies and spending.

We have a system that requires Scottish public authorities to respond to information requests within set timescales and to publish information proactively where there is a public interest. The Freedom of Information regime is regularly revised to keep it up-to-date and relevant. The legislation is promoted and enforced by the independent Scottish Information Commissioner. There is an incremental approach to extending coverage of the Freedom of Information legislation to organisations undertaking public functions. Public bodies in Scotland are also covered by the Public Records (Scotland) Act. This legislation, overseen by the National Records of Scotland, is progressively ensuring that public bodies in Scotland have robust systems and plans in place to manage their records. This will help promote the proper handling and recording of public information, in both the short and long terms.

Throughout the implementation of the Scottish Plan we will continue to identify areas where the legislation can be improved, explore opportunities for increased proactive publication and further develop relations with key stakeholders in the interests of encouraging wider cultural change.

Recognising that Open Data can be an 'engine for innovation, growth and transparent governance' we published an Open Data Strategy which complements the right to information under FOI. It aims to ensure anonymised data generated by public bodies is made available through easily accessible channels boosting accountability and transparency. The Strategy will help to ensure that Scotland meets International standards of publication and support innovation through the development of new products and services.

As part of the strategy, provides access to a range of official statistics about Scotland for information and re-use. The system will be expanded to include all Scottish producers of official statistics. All open datasets behind Scottish Official Statistics will be published on by the end of 2017.

To build openness into the work to deliver the newly devolved responsibilities such as Scotland's significant tax, borrowing and welfare responsibilities we will work with people across public services, civil society, Scottish Parliament, the private sector and academics to explain how public finances work, including procurement, in a way that is accessible, so people can understand the flows of money into and out of the government at all levels. This will also support the spread of participatory budgeting across public services.


The National Performance Framework or Scotland Performs provides a broad measure of our progress, covering economic, social and environmental issues with the results accessible to all. The NPF influences how policy is made, and is a way for the Scottish people to see whether the reform of public service is working. It means that the public sector can work towards a common set of goals to help support collaboration and partnership working. The data sets behind the NPF will also provide a robust framework to monitor and evaluate progress against Sustainable Development Goals.

In 2015 Nicola Sturgeon was one of the first national leaders to acknowledge the importance of Sustainable Development Goals for both domestic and international policy. Reviewing the NPF to take account of the Goals is the start of a much larger initiative to embed all Goals into the long-term planning of the Scottish Government. We will use the opportunities of Pioneer status to learn how others are working towards completing the goals by 2030.

Citizen participation

Scottish Government and Civil Society want to see a step change in how the Scottish Government does its work. We believe that more and better engagement means:

  • better outcomes for people, families and communities
  • a more robust, inclusive and sustainable economy
  • better service delivery
  • more engaged and empowered citizens
  • helps protect civil liberties and human rights
  • leads to greater trust and understanding of government

It is, therefore, no accident that the dominant theme of this Scottish Plan is to put people at the centre of what we do and to make sure that government is, responsibly, delivering the policies and services that people need.

Scotland emerged from the debate about its future during the 2014 independence referendum with a much stronger sense of the need to tackle social injustice and unfairness and to build a better country.

In response, the Scottish Government launched a National Conversation to hear what mattered to people about fairness and social justice in Scotland - A Fairer Scotland. People attended 200 public events discussing what would make a difference; and having listened to a wide range of voices (more than 17,000 online and 7,000 face to face) the results of this participation have now been turned into a focused plan to deliver 50 specific actions over the Parliament (before 2021 Fairer Scotland Action Plan).

Over the next year, delivering the Fairer Scotland commitments will be a focus of this work. We will also introduce annual reporting at the end of the first year, checking back with communities about progress.

We recognise that how Scottish Government does its work is important. We also know that change is hard. So the work being taken forward to increase participation and to energise local democracy through this plan will be based on a set of clear principles for improving democracy, including:.

  • subsidiarity and local decision making - decisions should be taken at the lowest possible level or at the level closest to the people they affect
  • simple, open democracy - people should be able to influence decisions that affect them and their families, and trust the decisions made on their behalf by those they elect
  • personal and empowering - people should have equal opportunity to participate and have their voice heard in decisions shaping their local community and society
  • fairness and equality of outcomes - arrangements should be appropriate and tailored towards the needs and aspirations of people and places
  • financially sustainable and preventative - arrangements should be effective, efficient and represent value for money for Scotland as a whole

In the Scottish Plan we focus on specific, high priority actions to grow the skills of public servants, partners, civil society and citizens in 3 broad areas:

  • bringing local government functions closer to communities
  • designing public services with users, however diverse, in mind
  • building an Open Government movement in Scotland

We aim to provide improved systems, processes and mechanisms to increase the opportunities for people to participate equally. We have a strong record of working with civil society and engaging constructively with citizens to deliver our Programme for Government in an open and transparent way.

Scotland's leadership as Pioneers

As one of only 15 governments around the world selected to work with the OGP we recognise the importance of maximising that opportunity both within the UK and internationally.

In part, the purpose of the Pioneer programme for OGP is to find ways of ensuring that Open Government principles actually change lives. The recent review of all commitments made by OGP countries worldwide, found that only 2% of commitments are directly related to health, education, or climate change. In addition, the emphasis for OGP internationally on Sustainable Development Goals -identifying how to ensure all Goals are delivered by 2030 - will be important.

Scotland is an ambitious, outwardly focused nation, keen to share our experiences and to learn from others. We will, therefore, lead work with local authorities and the governments of Wales, Northern Ireland and the UK to closely examine these questions and to share the learning with OGP and the other Pioneer governments.

Scottish OGP Civil Society Network will also lead complementary work with the civil society networks of the Pioneer governments, and networks elsewhere in the UK, and develop engagement through the wiki pages:


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