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The benefits of open government and how to get more involved

30/03/2015

It is terrific that Building Change Trust, http://www.buildingchangetrust.org/ – an initiative of the BIG Lottery Fund to explore ways in which the voluntary and community sector can do its business even better in a challenging environment – has decided to help to resource an embryonic Open Government Network. The procurement process is under way to appoint an organisation to provide support to the Network.

Building Change Trust is aware of the fanfare and potential associated with the Open Government Partnership initiative, to which the Network is linked. The Open Government Partnership is an initiative of the United Nations and now has over 60 countries affiliated, including the UK and Ireland.

Action plans are developed in partnership between government and civil society. It is early days and much progress still needs to be made, but there has been a promising start and there is great potential.

In Northern Ireland, it is easy to sense the appetite for open government. There are a lot of reasons including the clear rewards for making data more open and available, sharing of information to provide more easily accessed and better services, and the substantial benefits to be gained from service users helping to design service provision.

But it is also because people want to positively trust elected representatives and government, and to have faith that their needs will be met increasingly well as a matter of course.

Strengthening democracy is not just about getting more people to vote, important as that is; and there has been regression in voting turn-out in recent years.

Strengthening democracy is also about deepening it in those places like ours where people are fortunate enough to have the ability to vote. Deepening democracy means getting more people participating in decision-making, in designing policies and in shaping services.

Participatory budgeting is one example where people can be more involved in decision-making. It is a fascinating concept being piloted in a few countries including through the open government partnership initiative. Trusting the people most directly affected by policy and service provision – and who pay for it through taxes – by asking them how their money should be prioritised and spent, is a fundamental and far reaching concept.

In Northern Ireland, the staff at the Northern Ireland Assembly do an under-valued job in making information available, explaining how the Assembly works and in live streaming evidence gathering in committees and debates in the main chamber. It brings what happens in that building closer to the electorate and to the tax payers that pay for it.

If it is good for the regional Assembly then surely it is also good for local Councils – live streaming full Council meetings should be a relatively easy concept for Councils to embrace and to bring them closer to their electorate and their ratepayers.

Exciting times ahead for the Open Government Network in Northern Ireland – here is how to join and get involved:
http://forum.opengovernment.org.uk/groups/opengovni

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