3. Scotland's Open Government achievements and vision
What is the long-term vision for Open Government in Scotland?
Scotland's Open Government partners aspire for our country to be world-leading in our approach to transparent and accountable governance. We believe that an open approach is required to strengthen public trust in our institutions, produce better public service outcomes and a better quality of life for people in Scotland.
The importance of trust in government has been highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Its profound and uneven impact has had wide-ranging and acute effects on everyone.
We recognise that considering and applying Open Government values to government planning and work helps to focus thinking on how Scotland is governed, and that this can positively affect the development and maintenance of trust across a range of different social groups.
Throughout the co-creation process, stakeholders and participants have told us that their priority is implementing existing strategies and delivering on current commitments, rather than creating new initiatives. Using Open Government principles to do this in a transparent, accountable and participatory way will be a central theme of this Action Plan's long-term vision for Open Government.
This includes supporting the delivery of commitments to human rights, including those of children and young people, by seeking to put people at the heart of government reforms; by mainstreaming equalities and empowering communities. Open Government values will be applied to the Scottish Government's manifesto commitments and Programme for Government commitments, to Covid-19 Recovery, Health and Social Care reforms, to tackling the climate emergency, and to use Participation, digital technology and data to improve outcomes.
What have we achieved so far?
Scotland has delivered two National Action Plans (NAPs) since 2015. The first NAP delivered major advances in the roll-out of Participatory Budgeting (PB) in Scotland, including agreement to the target of at least 1% of local authority budgets being subject to PB. It also initiated a strand of work around financial transparency and performance measurement, aligning Scotland's National Performance Framework (NPF) with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and including openness and transparency as NPF values. Scotland's first open contracting strategy was published, and additional financial information was published throughout 2017.
Scotland's second NAP built on the successes of the first, developing the financial transparency theme further. This included publishing Scottish Government contract documentation and procurement-related spend, embedding Open Government principles in the new National Investment Bank, and making the budget easier to understand. This NAP also delivered improved access to information, through publishing all datasets underpinning the NPF in open data format and increasing the number of datasets available for small areas. During the pandemic, Covid-19 management information has been published regularly online, enabling the development of interactive data dashboards.
In addition, Scotland has tested a range of methods to involve the public in decision making, including two Citizens' Assemblies, an online platform to support participatory budgeting, crowdsourcing platform and the Scottish Approach to Service Design. The learning gained through these activities was fed into the development of a Participation Framework, which is designed to guide good practice across government in open policy–making and is now being rolled out and will be improved as we learn.
Challenges and areas for improvement
During the last year, the profound and uneven impact on society, rights and freedoms caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has brought into focus the need to ensure people in Scotland can participate in the decisions that affect them, as individuals and in communities.
As we emerge from the pandemic, Scottish Government is committed to focusing on Covid Recovery to tackle the wide range of impacts experienced. This will include a focus on human rights, equality, inclusion and participatory democracy, to allocate resources and deliver Covid Recovery in an open, accountable and person-centred way that builds and maintains trust. This partnership believes that applying Open Government principles to these priorities can support and strengthen government action.
The urgent need for action to address the climate emergency is also a priority. To achieve the system-wide transformation needed to become a net zero nation, it is crucial that stakeholders, communities, and people are aware of the global climate emergency and Scottish Government climate change policy, that everyone understands how it relates to their lives, and everyone is able to participate in its delivery. Participation is key to ensuring Just Transition, that everyone has bought in to Scotland's climate ambitions and everyone is part of the collective effort required.
This Action Plan focuses on promoting Open Government values across three policy areas which the co-creation process identified as priorities for civil society and government: Financial Transparency, Climate Change, and Health and Social Care. A further two Commitments will enable Open Government work across these policy areas and wider Scottish Government work effectively and ethically: Participation, and, Data and Digital.
These enabling Commitments provide important routes to support work embedding inclusion and human rights in how government works in Scotland. This will be supported by ensuring that Open Government principles guide the review of Scotland's National Performance Framework, and that Scotland is measuring what matters.
Medium-term Open Government goals that we want to achieve
In the medium term, the Action Plan focuses on practical steps that begin a process of meaningfully embedding Open Government principles of transparency and accountability, through the Commitment on financial transparency; on enabling engagement and transparency through open data; and on participation across the work of government to improve democratic engagement and access to decision making, particularly in relation to Climate Change, and Health and Social Care.
This will be achieved by focusing activity on the problems we are facing and the priorities initially identified. Milestones outlined at the time of this Action Plan's publication are initial. Into the medium and longer term, new milestones will be collaboratively developed in an iterative and responsive way, to reflect emerging priorities.
Including in this plan Commitments on Climate Change, and on Health and Social Care, provides an opportunity for Open Government values to directly impact the delivery of some of the Scottish Government's most high-profile and wide-ranging strategies, improving accountability and participation in these areas.
The Commitment on financial transparency looks to provide better access to fiscal data and information, increasing the accessibility, usability and presentation of information about the public finances, to enable better understanding and scrutiny for a wide range of users, including the public.
The two enabling Commitments (Participation, and Data and Digital), are vital to supporting the other Commitments in the plan and wider Covid Recovery work to transform government.
How does this Action Plan help achieve the Scottish Government's overall policy goals?
The Scottish Government is committed to human rights and taking a person-centred approach to Covid-19 recovery. This Action Plan enables us to incorporate priorities for democratic reforms that we have heard from the public and civil society across financial transparency, Climate Change, and Health and Social Care reforms, and to do so in a way that applies Open Government principles through the use of high-quality participation, and data and technology.
The 2021-25 Open Government Action Plan includes actions on current priorities, such as:
- greater openness, transparency and empowerment through open data
- incorporating innovative participation through user-centred design in Health and Social Care reform
- making routine the use of Citizens' Assemblies (including for under 16s), and other forms of participation that offer deliberative and inclusive ways of involving communities and people
Other areas in which this Action Plan contributes to the achievement of the current administration's overall policy goals, and where there are opportunities to embed Open Government principles within the Plan period, include but are not limited to:
- review of the Community Empowerment Act
- review of the National Performance Framework (NPF)
- Local Democracy Bill, stemming from the Local Governance Review
- human rights legislation
- digital strategy, and Ethical Digital Nation
- Just Transition
As much of this work is at an early stage, details on Open Government activities and identification of relevant milestones in these areas will be collaboratively developed during the course of this Action Plan.
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