Scotland's Open Government action plan 2018 to 2020: detailed commitments

Full detail of Scotland's Open Government action plan commitments for 2018 to 2020.

Commitment 2: Providing a framework to support systemic change in Scottish Government to improve the way people are able to participate in open policy making and service delivery

Timeline: December 2018 – 2020

Lead: Scottish Government, Ingage Team

What problem are we trying to solve?

The Scottish Government is committed to working with people in Scotland to deliver policies and services that are designed to meet their needs. Openness is an outcome in Scotland's refreshed National Performance Framework which Scottish Government wants to achieve by being open and participatory in how we work. While there is good progress and excellent examples of listening to, involving and working with citizens, communities and people across Scotland, improving participation was the highest priority to emerge from the public engagement on open government. This evidence clearly shows that concerns still exist about the processes of engagement and consultation used by Government, and wider public services. The result of this is a growing mistrust of both the processes and the outcomes.

We heard concerns about all types of engagement. Issues include:

  • inconsistency of approach and lack of feedback; leaving people unsure what is done with their input
  • too much reliance on a small number of stakeholders, rather than seeking to involve the wider public (and causing consultation fatigue in a few)
  • too great a reliance on formal consultation mechanisms, and too often at a point where the options have been narrowed or all-but fixed
  • consultation documents often being complex and long, making them unsuitable for respondents unfamiliar with the arguments, the type of language or the actions – so excluding many
  • insufficient use of participatory approaches that provide clear information and an opportunity to deliberate on options, early enough in the development of policies and services to effect the outcome
  • insufficient use of technology – many people now choose to communicate using phones, tablets and computers
  • insufficient accessibility support to ensure a wide range of people can participate fully and people's time is properly valued.

This commitment will be delivered with expertise from both public service and civil society, but is deliberately focused on effective support for public servants. The expectations placed on public servants to involve people in their work has changed. As government becomes more open and accessible, many have welcomed and embraced this change, but in a world with fewer resources, support and training for public servants needs to be effectively targeted.

What are we going to do?

In brief, we commit to developing a 'Participation Framework' which guides good practice across government. We will illustrate and test examples of approaches in key policy areas. We will also review practice on consultation.

A Participation Framework will be developed based on the needs of public servants to make effective decisions on how, why and when to involve people in the development of policies and services openly. A primary aim is to give those delivering public services the confidence and understanding to use the matrix of methods and processes most effectively.

Training, guidance and case studies will be developed to demonstrate progress in types of participation and in various policy settings. It will guide users through the creation of a policy through to implementation of a service.

A Participation Framework will help users to navigate options, techniques and tools (including digital) for open policy making. Including Improvement Methodology, Service Design, User Research, deliberative processes; coproduction principles among others.

How will this help solve the problem?

The overall objective is to respond to the clear message from the public that there is a need for better participation. The bigger vision of this commitment is that people's views, expertise and lived experience is feeding in to the right places in government, at the right times in the development of policy and services. We hope this will contribute to changing the relationship between citizen and state to one of collaboration and partnership.

The expected result is to create guidance and identify training and process needs which can support public servants to make the meaningful involvement of people routine, effective and proportionate. It will support high quality participation tests that take into account who is participating and their contribution, as well as those who are not or cannot participate, in how this is used to improve development, design and delivery of policy, services and decision-making.

The resulting improvement to engagement and participation practices across government will help embed the National Standards on Engagement. There should be a number of measurable improvements in the public experience of participating or engaging in governments work.

This is linked to the First Minister's ambition for Scotland's government to be more open and accessible, and the value of openness as a core value in the refreshed National Performance Framework.

The commitment is relevant to the Open Government Partnership value of civic participation by opening up services, policy and decision-making to include and involve the public. This commitment is working towards creating a more meaningful experience of public participation and demonstrating the value of this.


The Participation Framework will be tested through a number of specific examples, as detailed below. Results will be made publicly accessible to measure success. The Participation Framework includes an exploration of participation enabled by technology. We will also include an assessment of the impact on equality.

This Framework of support will address three key elements:

  • improve understanding of the benefits of involving people early in a process;
  • raise awareness of the skills needed to either carry out or commission effective, proportionate and inclusive participation processes, and;
  • help to equip people to use the right method, for the right reasons at the right time.

1. Development of a Participation Framework

Existing advice, training and guidance will be reviewed. This will be drawn together to identify gaps and needs, before the creation of a Participation Framework for improving practice across Scottish Government. The work will be reported upon and will include the following:

1.1 Guidance:

Advice and case studies on using a variety of participation methods across the Scottish Government. This will explore the various cultural, organisational and strategic uses of participation in government and in current practice, to ensure this guidance meets current needs and challenges. The Participation Framework guidance may include:

  • making sense of terminology – a participation 'jargon buster'
  • decision-making tree – when and how to use different methods
  • understanding skills for participation – smart commissioning
  • knowledge bank collating the wealth of good existing guidance and practice
  • development and delivery of training plans
  • evaluation – how successful has your participatory activity been?

The Participation Framework and associated guidance will take account of protected characteristics, including specifically race and gender equality – linking into the below mentioned work.

1.2 Policy on accessibility for citizen participation

We will develop a cross-government accessibility policy to help diminish barriers to engaging in government's work. This could include creation of an expenses reimbursement policy for participants engaging in government work and/or guidance on different formats for producing information. People and interested organisations should be involved throughout the creation and testing of this policy.

1.3 Improve the formal consultation process

As part of the above work on guidance, we will specifically look at the formal consultation process commonly used in the Scottish Government as a tool in the policy-making cycle for engaging stakeholders and the wider public. A working group will be established to review practice, with the aim of helping policy-makers know when and how to use consultation, as one of many tools used in public engagement. This review will build on existing guidance specific to the consultation process. It will identify the appropriate support and advice for policy teams, across all sectors of government, which are considering seeking people's views, on using alternative methods, where appropriate, to the circumstances, content and purpose. This guidance could help policy teams to consider alternative approaches to working with people, end users, citizens or stakeholder groups, while also improving practice on consultation.

1.4 Develop a strategic approach to participation, specific to children and young people

Work will be carried out to link the Children and Families strategic approach to participation in the broader Framework. This action is to develop a strategic approach to participation, specific to children and young people, as part of our Action Plan 2018-21 to progress human rights of children as well as building on the Year of Young People 2018 Legacy. Our aim is to mainstream the participation of children and young people in decision-making. It will demonstrate participation practice across government, share learning from specific policy-areas, such as Children and Families, and contribute to government-wide improvement on participation practices. It will be evidenced by existing research and best practice as well as specific qualitative research into what works. It will carried out in conjunction with the research cross-sectoral working group.

2. Experiment with attitudes to openness

We will host events as safe spaces to explore what 'openness' means to people in their work. We will provide some advice and training around working in the open and working in the culture of open government. It is hoped this will begin to build an understanding of the issues and concerns that may make this difficult, and will build confidence in taking an open approach. 'What does openness mean to you' discovery events could involve a broad range of government and non-government participants.

3. Testing citizen participation enabled by technology

The Scottish Government is beginning to explore citizen participation enabled by online or digital means. It could be the right moment to explore these broad issues around accessibility, transparency and digital democracy. Accessibility will be at the heart of this exploration of where technology could be used to help those who face difficulty with current processes, as is being currently explored in the on-going work on e-voting pilots testing technology to bring people in, rather than exclude.

This will include:

  • the progress monitoring mechanism set up for Open Government Partnership Action Plan, so that the public have online access to up-to-date delivery progress on commitments
  • scoping feasibility of and appetite for a single portal for engagement and participation opportunities across the public sector (for opportunities such as participatory budgeting). This work will be in partnership with COSLA, given interest from Local Authorities and possible other parties.

With the aim of improving communication about participation opportunities, we will explore how people could more easily find out about upcoming consultations by making this available online. This will help organisations and individuals better plan and prepare for responding and engaging in Scottish Government opportunities. The result of this could be a list published and available on the Scottish Government website.

4. Exploration of deliberative and participatory methods through specific examples of active work:

The Scottish Government will test guidance and methods of participation through several live areas of work, detailed below. These test sites will use the Open Government Partnership guidance produced by the deliberative practice group. The aim of linking these pieces of work under open government is to ensure learning is shared across government and externally. The following approaches will be tested, among others:

4.1 Mini-publics

The local governance review is underway, carrying out a Scotland-wide conversation on the future of local democracy (Democracy Matters). We will work alongside COSLA and our cross-sector enabling group to explore the potential of including mini public or citizen assemblies as part of the next phase of engagement. This would be an opportunity to test the use of dialogue and deliberation with citizens to progress the developing thinking on the future of local democracy in Scotland.

4.2 Participatory budgeting and deliberative processes

Work has been ongoing to develop a charter for participatory budgeting in Scotland that clearly identifies the principles and values that should underpin a mainstream approach to participatory budgeting (PB) and broader participative democracy. As part of this work, a deliberative process to set out a clear expectation of mainstream participatory budgeting will be held. The purpose will be to connect to the existing National Standards for Community Engagement, the requirements to carry out equality and human rights impact assessments, sustainability and environmental impact assessments as well as the use of other methods and tools such as the Place Standard. This work will link directly to and be part of the broader local governance review (see above) as a practical realisation of citizens participation and involvement in local decision making that affects their life opportunities and outcomes.

4.3 Co-production

The Scottish Governments seeks to deliver the actions that will deliver the change set out in the 'Homelessness and rough sleeping' action group's final report Ending Homelessness. Specific elements of this action plan will be developed in partnership with homelessness organisations and will find ways to include homeless people in the co-production process.

4.4 Collective Leadership

The Scottish Government is testing a new collaborative approach to solving some of society's most complex problems through Collective Leadership. The Collective Leadership methodology uses highly skilled facilitation to coach a collaborative working group of leaders through difficult problems. This support is offered to cross-organisational groups which are grappling with a complex issue and are open to learning and doing things differently.

One test site is improving the provision of health and social care services in Scottish prisons. The problem here is that people in prisons typically suffer from unusually high health inequalities, and their offending behaviour is often driven by health conditions, especially drug and alcohol misuse and mental health issues. The impact of repeat offending is felt by patients, victims and their respective families, communities and the wider public services who engage with this cohort of individuals in prison and after release.

The 'Health and Social Care in Prisons Programme' will deliver national change to enable local partners to improve health and social care services to this group of patients. This includes integrating health and social care in prisons, delivering more transparent reporting on patients' outcomes, delivering better IT systems, and broader structures for improving services and supporting the workforce. The work requires the close cooperation of organisations with very distinct organisational cultures, making it an area of social policy that can only be addressed by more effective collective leadership and joint working.

Participants will be supported through the Collective Leadership for Scotland offer and the learning from this work made available through the Collective Leadership webpage, and at open learning events.

5. Transparent and open policy-making

The Scottish Government will deliver the Programme for Government (2018) commitment to work with stakeholders and interest groups to develop a common public sector approach to Online Identity Assurance and to do this in an open and transparent way following open government principles and practice. The vision is to help people to prove who they are online, in a safe, secure way, for easier access to public services. There is a National Stakeholder Group with the remit to inform the design, direction and prioritisation of the work programme from a stakeholder perspective. All Stakeholder Group meetings will continue to be as open as possible, with open invitations to interested members of the public, publication of all papers, and filming and streaming wherever possible. Papers and minutes of the Programme Board, which oversees programme governance, will also be published, contributing to transparency of decision making. Additionally, there will be blog posts, and public facing 'show and tells' to provide regular updates on the programme. The development work itself will be informed by the Scottish approach to service design, in order to design the new approach around the needs of individual people who will use those services. And a distinct citizen participation strand is planned to directly engage citizens around the programme themes of using a digital identity for online access to public services and protection of privacy and personal data.

6. Research and evaluation on equality of participation

Light touch research will be done to assess how the commitments on Open Government impact on gender and other protected characteristics. This focused study will include two learning events to share progress and ensure links to on going work on gender studies and equalities. The Scottish Government will deliver this commitment with first establishing a consortium of Scottish universities in partnership/co-sponsorship and other interested parties. The research will serve as learning for future Action Plan's on open government and initiatives in considering the impact on equalities.

State Actors involved: Scottish Government, Director of Communications, Chief Social Researcher, Chief Designer, Digital Engagement, Public Service Reform, Race Equality team, COSLA.

Active partners could include: Civil Society organisations Involve, SCDC, Democratic Society, Open Government Network, Academics and Gender experts.



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