Open Government Partnership Steering Group minutes: August 2020

Minutes from the meeting of the Open Government Partnership Steering Group, held on 26 August 2020.

Attendees and apologies



  • Graeme Dey (Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans) (Apologies)
  • Elric Honoré,Chair of Civil Society Network
  • Councillor Graham Houston, Vice President, COSLA

Civil Society

  • Shaben Begum, Director, Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance (Apologies)
  • Sally Kerr, Independent Expert
  • Kelly McBride, Director of The Democratic Society in Scotland
  • Ben McElwee, Healthcare Improvement Scotland
  • Lucy McTernan, Independent Expert
  • Graham Meikle, University of Westminster (Apologies)
  • Alex Stobart, Mydex (Apologies)
  • Ian Watt, CodeTheCity

Scottish Government

  • Barbara Allison, Director Communications, Ministerial Support & Facilities
  • Jennie Barugh, Director of Performance and Strategic Outcomes
  • Colin Cook, Director of Digital
  • Stephen Gallagher, Director for Local Government and Communities (Apologies)
  • Doreen Grove, Head of Open Government
  • Roger Halliday, Chief Statistician and Data Officer
  • Audrey MacDougall, Chief Social Researcher
  • Claire McPherson, Deputy Director, Public Service Reform, Public Bodies and Third Sector

Steering Group Secretariat

  • Simon Cameron, Corporate Policy Manager, COSLA
  • Madeleine Fleming, Open Government, Scottish Government


  • Daren Fitzhenry, Scottish Information Commissioner
  • Saskia Kearns, Senior Policy Adviser, Scottish Government. Commitment 4 lead

Items and actions

Welcome and Introductions

Doreen Grove welcomed members to the meeting. She acknowledged the challenges members have faced over the months since the group’s last meeting, and expressed optimism for the role which Open Government has appeared to play in positive and effective responses to the coronavirus. She highlighted strong responses to the virus from fellow OGP countries, such as Finland, New Zealand and South Korea. She shared her sense that though Scotland’s action plan has been officially on hold, there has been an increased recognition of the value which openness can bring, with many areas looking to work in the spirit and practice of openness.

Update from COSLA

Councillor Graham Houston began by acknowledging the way that local authorities have risen to the challenge of the past few months. He stressed the importance that learning is taken from this experience, and that we take time to examine what has worked well during this time so that it can be taken forward. A special interest group has been formed to consider this issue for local government, producing a Blueprint with an ambitious vision for Scotland’s future. This has identified 6 key themes: strengthening local democracy, funding services and communities, wellbeing, education and children and young people, the economy and the environment, and supporting vulnerable communities. Delivering a coordinated approach focussed around these themes will enable local authorities to deliver to the best of their abilities in all areas.

Cllr Houston expressed his hope that these themes and the blueprint could be tied into the next Open Government Action Plan, ensuring that spheres of government work together in an open way towards these goals.

Update from Civil Society

Elric Honoré, head of the Civil Society Network, welcomed the increase in collaboration which has been seen across many areas during the coronavirus response. He expressed that there had been some concern within civil society around some of the emergency measures introduced, particularly around freedom of information, but that these concerns had largely been allayed. Elric also highlighted some areas where Government had been perceived to move slowly, citing ethnicity data and care homes as examples.

Elric then handed over to the Civil Society commitment leads for updates on their areas.

UK Network

Lucy McTernan provided the group with an update on the UK Open Government Steering group. Open Government has recently moved from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, to Cabinet Office. An Open Government Playbook has been published, providing advice to help policy officials follow open government principles.

Commitment 1

Although the commitment 1 working group has not met during the last few months due to coronavirus pressures and the action plan being on hold, Lucy expressed her belief that recent events have highlighted the value of the progress which has already been made, particularly around transparency and procurement.

Commitment 2

Kelly McBride welcomed the huge amount of public engagement which has been taking place over the last few months, and the funding which has supported some of this. However, she expressed caution that it’s important to ensure coordination between engagement processes, as a large amount of overlap can be detrimental to the engagement achieving its aims and to the reputation of engagement as a whole.

Kelly highlighted that the development of the participation framework has not been as transparent as she hoped, and also drew attention to the desire expressed in the Civil Society Open Letter published in April to see a comprehensive overview of the impact of Covid on community empowerment, including participatory budgeting and democracy matters.

Claire McPherson responded making progress with Democracy Matters is high on the Cabinet Secretary’s (Aileen Campbell) agenda, and stressed the great opportunity we now have to acknowledge what we’ve learned from the coronavirus response, including the speed and scale of the community and third sector response, and to incorporate this into the local governance review.

Commitment 3

Ian Watt welcomed the positive channels of communication which were opened up around openness of Covid-19 data, and hoped that these might continue to be used and positive lessons might be learned from this experience.

Ian highlighted that the Open Data Unconference, though postponed by coronavirus, has been rescheduled and will take place over the weekend of the 5th September. This should generate some interesting discussions and he welcomed the Scottish Government’s engagement with this.

Looking forward to the next action plan, Ian expressed his hope that it will be possible to solidify the Scottish Government’s commitment to Open Data, and identify some strategies towards achieving this in the plan. He highlighted recent European research which, extrapolated for Scotland, suggested a large market which could be generated within Scotland if Open Data is done well. However, he expressed some doubt as to whether Scottish Government’s actions around Open Data measure up to the commitments it has made, and stressed that it was important to see real progress made, and to have measures in place to track that progress.

Roger Halliday responded, agreeing that the overall case for the value of Open Data is convincing, but stressing the need to identify specific use cases in Scotland in order to make this deliverable, particularly with constrained funding.

Update from Scottish Government

Roger Halliday recognised the potential for data to make a real difference in the response to the pandemic, and importance that this is done in an open and responsible way – protecting personal data. The Covid-19 Data and Intelligence Network has been brought together to ensure that value is delivered from data, while maintaining these standards – including through the creation of an ethical framework and information governance approach.

Jennie Barugh acknowledged that the last 6 months have been very testing for all areas – with reduced capacity due to staff redeployments to priority areas, and due to staff having caring responsibilities. Within Scottish Exchequer there was a complete shift in work to manage the fiscal and financial responses to the crisis. This has now broadened out, with energies focussed on looking ahead to renewal as well as managing the current situation. This involves working across the organisation, keeping a focus on the National Performance Framework outcomes, and working to understand what coronavirus means for the economy, environment and society more broadly.

Jennie stressed that there had been a focus on transparency during the crisis, with frequent ministerial statements around finance and fiscal flexibilities.

Doreen Grove acknowledge Kelly McBride’s earlier point about a lack of transparency around the development of the participation framework, and committed to holding another meeting of the working group within the near future.

She outlined the broad programme of work around participation which has been taking place, bringing together themes around recovery and renewal. Learning from these exercises and conversations with the Expert Advisory Group which has been established will feed into the development of a longer term strategy for supporting meaningful and valuable participation and engagement across Scottish Government.

Action Plan Delay

The options set out by the Open Government Partnership present the following timing options:

  • Delivery of the current plan is extended until Feb 28, 2021 (6 months), May 31, 2021 (9 months) or August 31, 2021 (12 months).
  • Launch of the next plan is submitted by either April 30, 2021 (6 months), August 31, 2021 (9 months) or December 31, 2021 (12 months).

Taking into account the current stages of the commitments, Scottish Government propose that delivery of the current action plan is extended by 6 months, to end February 2021.

Having considered the challenges which might be posed by launching a new action plan during the pre-election period, and to allow sufficient time for meaningful engagement and collaborative working, Scottish Government proposes that the next action plan should be submitted in August 2021, taking advantage of a 9 month extension.

The group agreed to this timeline, with some comments provided:

  • Beginning a new plan in September 2021 would match up well with the onboarding of new Local members, which would likely benefit our relationship as mentors in this space.
  • It will be extremely important, particularly given the intention to pursue a longer, 4-year plan, that the plan contains clear milestones to maintain ambition and pace throughout the delivery period
  • Some concern was raised as to whether commitment 4 would reach completion prior to the end of February – however it was agreed that it would be possible to demonstrate significant progress at least

Open Government Partnership Internationally

A new cohort of Local participants will join OGP in the coming months. Doreen Grove reminded members that we will be playing a mentoring role for these administrations. It was noted that Glasgow City Council have submitted a note of interest to join the Local programme.

Action: Doreen Grove/Madeleine Fleming to contact Glasgow City Council with an invitation to attend the next meeting of this group

We continue to work closely with other OGP countries in Northern Europe. Doreen Grove and Madeleine Fleming will attend a meeting with the “Nordics +” group in mid-September, continuing to build our relationships with these nations.

The group discussed the upcoming changes to the IRM (Independent Reporting Mechanism), and the need for Scotland to develop its own reporting system. The Scottish Information Commissioner’s office is currently working on developing this.

Daren Fitzhenry asked the group to consider whether it was more important that the reporting mechanism provided real value to the process in helping us to identify how best to move commitments forward for impact in Scotland, or that the new mechanism allows us to continue to “read across” our progress in comparison with other countries’.

The group suggested that while it was important that some read-across was maintained, this might only be on a few key points. It was also highlighted that all Local members will be designing their own reporting mechanisms, so it will be possible for Scotland to act as an exemplar in this area if this is done well. There is a great opportunity to work with other authorities around identifying what new methods of assessment we want to introduce.

The potential to introduce participatory audits into the reporting mechanism was highlighted, particularly as a good way to work with civil society and build transparency and openness into the system. The potential links to work done in Commitment 4 on this area could also be helpful.

Action: Madeleine Fleming to collect names of volunteers to join a working group looking at the IRM Process, and work with Daren Fitzhenry (the group’s lead) to set up a first meeting

Next Steps

The next meeting of the Open Government Steering Group will take place on November 18th. Any non-members wishing to attend this meeting as observers should contact the secretariat (

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