Open Government Partnership Steering Group minutes: May 2023

Minutes of the Open Government Partnership Steering Group meeting held on 17 May 2023.

Attendees and apologies


  • Mr Adam, Minister for Parliamentary Business
  • Lucy McTernan, Chair of Civil Society Network (Chair)


  • Simon Cameron, Chief Officer - Employers' Team, COSLA (apologies)
  • Councillor Steven Heddle, Vice-President (apologies)

Civil Society

  • Annie Cook, Democratic Society (apologies)
  • Jack Lord, Open Data Services Co-operative (apologies)
  • Susan Paxton, SCDC
  • David Reilly, Poverty Alliance
  • Alex Stobart, MyDex CIC (apologies)
  • Juliet Swann, Transparency International UK


  • Jennie Barugh, Director of Performance and Strategic Outcomes (apologies, Niall Davidson, Change and Stakeholder Engagement Lead deputising)
  • Andy Bruce, Director of Communications and Ministerial Support
  • Doreen Grove, Head of Open Government
  • Geoff Huggins, Director Digital (Eilidh McLaughlin, Head of Digital Citizen Unit, deputising)
  • Catriona Laing, Deputy Director for Domestic Climate Change (apologies, Jeremy Hanks, Senior Policy Officer, deputising)
  • Mary McAllan, Director of Covid Recovery and Public Service Reform (apologies)
  • Martin Macfie, Head of Open Data
  • Shona Nicol, Team Leader, Data Standards, Scottish Government
  • Linda Pollock, Interim Director, Healthcare Quality and Improvement (apologies, Alexandra Dunn, Unit Head, Person Centered and Participation Teams, deputising)
  • Jane O’Donnell, Deputy Director, Third Sector, Community Empowerment and Open Government Division


  • Gülçe Baskaya, PhD student, Edinburgh University
  • Daren Fitzhenry, Scottish Information Commissioner
  • Sam Jordan, Scottish Community Development Centre
  • Matthew Linden, Deputy Private Secretary to Minister for Parliamentary Business
  • Louise Meikleham, Senior data policy officer, Scottish Government
  • Elaine Moffat, Freedom of Information Officer, Scottish Information Commissioner
  • Huong Nguyen, Lecturer in Urban Innovation, Edinburgh Napier University
  • Pamela Rennie, Strategic Policy and Planning, Chief Executive’s Department, Glasgow City Council
  • Michelle Smith, member of Scotland’s Civil Society Network

Steering group secretariat

  • Neisha Kirk, Open Government participation policy officer 

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

Lucy McTernan welcomed members and observers to the meeting. Observers and new members were provided with a short overview to Scotland’s Open Government Steering Group and its unique role as a forum where civil society and government are equal partners.

Apologies were noted and taken as read.

Action plan commitment progress update – revised milestones and exception reporting

Participation commitment

Doreen Grove provided an update for the participation commitment, noting milestones had been updated in collaboration with civil society to improve elements of the commitment to include specific actions related to ethics and safeguarding, and to children and young people’s participation. It was also highlighted that the Participation Framework was published earlier in the year and was a key milestone for the commitment. The framework is now in the process of being updated to be more inclusive, accessible and equitable, with a series of public workshops commissioned by the open government team informing this refresh.

Juliet Swann, civil society participation commitment member, further updated that David Reilly from the Poverty Alliance had joined the civil society group, and reflected that she was pleased the commitment will focus on ethics. She particularly highlighted the importance of understanding what this means for the public to be involved, and exploring how participation can be improved ethically, particularly in light of the growing number of lived experience panels.

Health and social care commitment

Alexandra Dunn confirmed the health and social care commitment is making good progress. It was outlined that the first year milestones were focused on setting up planned areas of work, and year two will be more around delivery. It was confirmed the design school model is currently being piloted, and that there is a newly established lived experience expert panel which is supporting the co-design of the National Care Service. It was reflected that it was good progress to see Scottish Government bringing people in, and the public supporting the co-design of work taking place in health and social care. It was also noted that at this early phase in delivery analytical colleagues at Scottish Government were currently supporting the assessment of this work to ensure impact, and to capture the value of the involvement of people. It was updated that civil society and health and social care leads are continuing to establish the most effective ways of working in order to maximise the impact of the civil society group to help shape this work, and to support the role of the civil society group to be a 'critical friend’ – considering different views of how this work should be taken forward, alongside the Scottish Approach to Service design.

Susan Paxton, health and social care commitment member, confirmed that the group are seeking to build civil society capacity for the commitment and will provide an update on this at the next meeting.

Climate change commitment

Jeremy Hanks provided an update for the climate change commitment. It was confirmed the stakeholder network was launched at the end of March after an extensive scoping exercise had been carried out to secure a digital platform to host the network, and the team had completed the relevant data protection impact assessments. It was noted members of the team working on the network had hosted pre and post launch information sessions externally and internally to raise awareness of the network, and to explain the purpose of the platform and how it will function. It was confirmed external information sessions will continue to be run monthly going forward to promote membership.

The group was made aware that the team were encouraged by the current membership, confirming at present 80 members had signed up to the network, with members now referring the platform onto other organisations as intended. It was confirmed membership at this six week mark had exceeded metrics the team had forecast, but that they will continue to look at demographic and geographical representation of members. As the team are planning to run a number of place based events across Scotland during the summer, it was confirmed this was the basis for the first engagement activity members had participated in since the launch of the network. It was confirmed the team are currently in the process of providing feedback to members on how input provided had been utilised, and that the next series of engagement activities are currently being prepared by the team.

The climate change civil society representative sent their apologies, but it was confirmed the team had met with the commitment lead and that they were content with the update provided.

Lucy McTernan identified an opportunity for facilitating a connection between the Open Government Steering Group (and the work around open government more broadly), the Scottish Civil Society network, and the work taking place on the climate engagement stakeholder network. It was proposed that Sam Jordan, secretariat for the civil society group, should be copied into future communications and could support in building the networks together.

Data and digital commitment

Shona Nicol confirmed that work across the six actions as part of the commitment were making good progress. The launch of the scottish artificial intelligence register in March and the release of a beta version of the data discovery tool as part of the Civtech project were noted as particular success areas. The group was reminded that the discoverability tool aims to make it easier to find public sector data. It was acknowledged that the beta version will require further improvements and updates to ensure various sites are linked up to the platform using application programming interfaces (API). It was noted that there is a separate advisory group for the project that includes public, private and third sector individuals, and that they provide feedback on the type of information and data that users may want, and also what would be useful for data publishers. Looking forward, attendees were made aware that over the coming months the team will run a series of public workshops over the summer to inform the refresh of the open data guidance. Communications were noted to be shared shortly, and the group were encouraged to sign up to attend a workshop if interested.

An update was then provided on the community of practice, which attendees were reminded is a place to share use cases, guidance and support around open data and data standards. It was confirmed at present the community has over 100 members from across the public sector, and the team have been delivering drop in sessions every two weeks to discuss relevant areas to the community.

It was also confirmed that data and digital representatives have had useful conversations and exchanges across commitments, including fiscal transparency and climate change.

Fiscal transparency commitment

Niall Davidson outlined that revised milestones as part of the fiscal transparency commitment had been informed by a discussion with Scotland’s Independent Reporting Mechanism last year, and that from the progress update circulated the commitment had identified three aims. There is an overall objective that sits under each aim, alongside milestone activity for each year. This is intended to make the commitment’s ambitions and delivery areas clearer over the course of the action plan.

It was noted the fiscal transparency commitment is thereby structured into three key delivery areas, with accessibility of fiscal information and data the largest area of work for the commitment. It was noted from the previous meeting that the fiscal transparency programme had seen the development of an early version of the online fiscal portal (often referred to as an alpha prototype), which aims to present fiscal data and information in a more coherent and structured format. It was confirmed an alpha prototype was delivered earlier this year, and had been demonstrated to the civil society subgroup and oversight institutions including Scottish Parliament, Audit Scotland, Scottish Parliament Information Centre and the Fraser of Allander Institute with a good reception. The team is now ensuring the learning gained from demonstrations delivered will inform the development of a beta version, with the aim to deliver a fully functional, internal beta version in October, before planning how to disseminate the portal for wider public use.

It was noted a further objective under this aim is to help people understand the public finances, and it was confirmed work had progressed to revise the Your Scotland, Your Finances guide, which was published this year.

The group was updated that the second delivery area, which looks to benchmark Scotland against international standards such as the IMF fiscal transparency code, OECD principles, and open budget index, is taking longer to progress, but work is underway on this between budget colleagues and others. However it was noted the publication of the Scottish budget 2023 to 2024 was released for the first time accompanied by a classification of the functions of government spend in line with OECD best practice. This aims to make the purpose of government spend clearer as it helps the public track the purpose of spend over time. It was confirmed this will continue to be released alongside the budget.

As part of the third aim to improve participation and engagement around the pubic finances, it was noted at the previous sub group meeting with civil society a useful discussion had taken place into improving public engagement around infrastructure investment.

Lucy McTernan, the fiscal transparency civil society representative, reaffirmed she remained enthused by the progress being made across the commitment.

The Minister confirmed he was content with progress and the revised milestones developed for each commitment. Lucy McTernan acknowledged revised milestones had been informed by the report and recommendations produced by the IRM into the co-creation of the action plan, and that the group had reached a significant point in its delivery. It was also reflected that the updates provided by commitment leads suggest that significant areas of progress have taken place across commitments to date.

Delivering transparency in Scotland

The chair introduced the next agenda item to attendees, outlining this was the first meeting of the Open Government Partnership for Scotland since the leadership of the government has changed. The group was made aware that the Scottish civil society group had drafted and issued a letter to the new First Minister (FM) for Scotland, emphasising the importance of the partnership, and to build on the work delivered with the previous administration. Given the period of refresh in government, the civil society group saw this as an opportunity to revisit the overarching themes of open government. It was noted in his new role the FM had emphasised the centrality of transparency, and the following discussion would seek to delve into what this could mean in Scotland, and for open government.

The chair paused to welcome the reappointment of Mr Adam MSP to Minister for Parliamentary Business, and acknowledged this was an opportunity to continue to build and move forward on the open government agenda the co-chairs had been overseeing.

Juliet Swann, senior policy officer from Transparency International UK, then led a discussion around how open governance and transparency could be improved in Scotland, and what this issue should be mean for the group in the context of open government at this point in its collective history. The aim of the discussion was for the group to explore where it could take advantage of current opportunities, and how open government could ensure Scotland continues to maintain high standards of political integrity and trust in Government, acknowledging that transparency is a key mechanism to maintaining these standards.

Attendees were taken through a short presentation to consider opportunities and discussion points to improve transparency as part of the current action plan, and where this could be taken forward into the next national action plan (NAP). Juliet provided a summary of the current conditions and reasons why the group should be taking the opportunity to revisit the issue of transparency, noting the new global open government strategy alongside the new administration in Scotland.

It was outlined what transparency involves, and the opportunities for where transparency could be improved in Scotland. This involved suggesting the group could review existing mechanisms in advance of NAP 4, including outstanding reforms from the 2020 review of the Post Lobbying Act, revisiting the handful of recommendations from the citizens assembly of Scotland and, the prospect to appoint a good governance champion, who would work across all levels of government and could be involved in the co-creation of the next NAP, setting an example to the UK and internationally through the OGP. It was highlighted that making open government central at all levels and branches of government would support the improvement of transparency and inclusion.

Juliet closed by suggesting to the group that OGP in Scotland could think about these recommendations, and how they could be delivered as part of the next NAP. To support future discussions into the topic, it was noted the Chief Executive from Transparency International was prepared to meet with the steering group and the Minister for Parliamentary Business, to discuss how members could take these recommendations forward.

The Minister agreed he was willing to meet with Transparency International colleagues to discuss the issue further. The Minister also made the group aware that he found it important to reaffirm that Scottish Government, and the First Minister take the issue of transparency seriously, and that the First Minister has restated his commitment to transparency. The Minister acknowledged the recent, challenging political circumstances in Scotland, and the impact this may have had on the levels of trust in Government, but strongly reaffirmed his belief and commitment to the open government values of openness, transparency and accountability.

Daren Fitzhenry thanked Juliet for the presentation, and confirmed discussions aligned with developments emerging in the Freedom Of Information (FOI) space. Attendees were made aware that there is a working group in the International Conference of Information Commissioners (ICIC) taking place on transparency by design, looking at the fundamentals of transparency, and the practicalities of the phrase. The ICIC is due to meet next month, and they expect to see outputs from the working group translate into updates to toolkits at all levels of government to further encourage a proactive publication culture. It was agreed this strongly linked to the point raised in the presentation around embedding a culture of transparency, as work by the ICIC will involve helping governments make it easier to share information in advance, including why information cannot be shared with the public, and will involve the possibility of FOI laws being improved and updated.

It was agreed, either as part of the next steering group meeting, or after the general election, that the group should consider and discuss how the transparency and political integrity architecture in Scotland currently links together, and where this could be improved. It was also noted this discussion should look to leverage existing systems in place, and that there is currently important work taking place to improve transparency and governance in Scotland, but it would be helpful to understand how this good work taking place, particularly internally, could be more visible and joined up.

Doreen Grove noted the directorate for communications and ministerial support at Scottish Government have a central role in the proactive release of communications, and the directorate’s potential to contribute to this issue could be helpful to think about.

Andy Bruce, director of communications and ministerial support, agreed, and outlined for attendees the directorate’s responsibility to ensure the proactive release of information, and that a key responsibility as part of the directorate’s remit was consultations, in particular how to improve the consultation process to support the opportunity for the public to shape the development of proposals and polices. It was highlighted that in terms of the discussion around further measures to advance the proactive release of information, that the Permanent Secretary, Deputy First Minister and First Minister would need to be clear about their expectations of how this could be developed. However he was happy to take insight and direction from further discussions on the topic, and reaffirmed the strong commitment from the Permanent Secretary to the issue of open communications and transparency to the public.

Juliet confirmed that Transparency International UK colleagues have an open access tool which brings together ministerial meeting data from Whitehall. She was aware colleagues are hoping to extend this to ministerial meetings in Scotland and Wales, and so may look follow up with Andy after the meeting.

Shona Nicol raised that the data discoverability tool was seeking to search Freedom of Information responses on the Scottish Government website that included tables in order to make the data more visible. It was suggested that the team could follow up with Darren to explore where the open data commitment could support the FOI working group.

The discussion closed with the Minister reflecting that it is becoming increasingly clear that open government is the solution to many issues governments are facing, and he had raised this at a recent meeting with other cabinet ministers, and will continue to regularly highlight the value and benefits of open government across ministerial portfolios.  

Lucy McTernan thanked Juliet for the discussion and for facilitating some important connections. It was also noted that in light of discussions surrounding communications, it would be worth sharing with relevant networks that the group are trying to find real and practical ways to deliver on this commitment.

Open Government Partnership (OGP) 5 year strategy

The group were then taken through the new Open Government Partnership (OGP) strategy. It was confirmed that OGP are looking for members to lead on the new strategy and its priority areas. Doreen Grove provided an overview of each of the five strategic goals and their accompanying priority areas. It was noted that Scotland is delivering across the five strategic goals in some capacity in its current action plan, but proposed the group meet in the autumn to reflect upon where Scotland is currently progressing, and where the group would like to build its links to the strategy in the future.

Lucy McTernan further highlighted the prominence of the sub national and local partnerships in the discussions surrounding the development of the strategy, and the significance of these partnerships have resulted in the new strategy no longer distinguishing between OGP local and national members. It was noted Scotland’s involvement in discussions could be attributed to this new development for OGP.

Any other closing business

Attendees were reminded that the global Open Government Summit would take place in Tallinn, Estonia from 6 to 7 September 2023. The summit brings together activists, reformers, government and civil society to share ideas and exchange experiences, best practices, and progress on open government initiatives and implementation.

It was noted that Scottish Government anticipates a ministerial presence at the summit, and that registration to attend the Summit would close Sunday 28th May 2023. Lucy McTernan confirmed the summit was raised at the previous civil society committee meeting and members were encouraged to register before the deadline.

The meeting closed with the chair suggesting OGP local member Glasgow could feature on the agenda at the next Steering Group meeting in September in light of the OGP strategy’s approach to OGP local members, and to ensure the group are connecting between the different levels of governance.


  • Sam Jordan, secretariat for the civil society group, to be copied into future communications from the Climate Change Engagement Stakeholder Network
  • Scottish Government and Transparency International UK colleagues to organise a meeting with the Chief Executive of Transparency International and the Minister for Parliamentary Business
  • Shona Nicol to follow up with Daren Fitzhenry to explore where the open data commitment could support the FOI working group
  • The group to further discuss the OGP strategy 2023 to 2028 and where Scotland could support its implementation at the next steering group

Next steps

The next meeting of the Open Government Steering Group is provisionally due take place Tuesday 26 September, subject to ministerial availability. Any non-members wishing to attend this meeting as observers should contact the secretariat (

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