Final OGP Meeting Report

Action Plan Proposals Come Together at Final Public Session

A total of 62 Action Plan proposals for Ireland’s first OGP National Action Plan were agreed at the ultimate session of Ireland’s Open Government Partnership civil society consultation. (For the contemporaneous account of the meeting, read the Live Blog report on this website.)

The event was the last of three public gatherings for citizens and civil society to produce their Action Plan proposals for consideration for inclusion in Ireland’s first OGP National Action Plan. Turnout was once again strong, with some 34 participants breaking into four working groups based on OGP’s core principles of Accountability, Citizen Participation, Technology & Innovation and Transparency.

Participants spent the first part of the meeting fine-tuning their draft Action Plan proposals. These came together at the two earlier public meetings and through lots of online input in between. As the conversations kicked off, a low murmur filled the air, with the four group facilitators performing edits to the working groups online for all to see.

An inclusive voting process, the Modified Borda Count system, was then used by working groups to prioritise their proposals – a short list of the long list if you like.

Nuala Haughey of Transparency International Ireland, who has arranged and coordinated the consultation, stressed that all Action Plan proposals generated during the three month long consultation will be submitted to government for consideration.

Philip Kearney, an expert in the MBC system, was on hand to supervise the voting and answer any questions about the analysis. (The MBC had recently been used by Dublin City Council in selecting the name for the latest bridge over the Liffey – the Rosie Hackett Bridge.)

The results showed that some proposed Action Plan commitments had particularly strong support among participants in the four working groups. These included a proposal to introduce participatory budgeting at local government level. This would allow citizens to have a real say in how their taxes are spent. Ivan Cooper from The Wheel, was facilitator of the Citizen Participation working group which put forward this Action Plan proposal. He told the gathering that there were 21 other varied proposals from the group.(See the Citizen Participation working group’s proposals in full.)

John Handelaar of Kildarestreet.com, summarising the deliberations of the Technology & Innovation group, said one of its top choices was the creation of an official data asset catalogue – meaning that public bodies and government would make known what information they hold. (See the Technology & Innovation working group’s proposals in full.)

Imelda Higgins BL summed up for the Accountability working group, which had enhanced powers for Comptroller and Auditor General high on its list. A recommendation that the findings of the Moriarty and Mahon tribunals be acted upon also featured strongly. (See the Accountability working group’s proposals in full.)

And for the fourth working group, on Transparency, TASC’s’s Nat O’Connor reported that data availability and readability was a popular choice for his group. That data on official websites be machine-readable – usable in common digital formats – was a theme that recurred, and had also been a theme in the Technology group. (See the Transparency working group’s proposals in full.)

Senior DPER official William Beausang, along with colleagues Claire Martinez and Conor McCann, attended the September 5 meeting for the final plenary session.

FOI fee abolition has featured in discussions online and offline throughout this OGP consultation process – and it became the focus of John Handelaar’s passionate input at the closing plenary session, moderated by DCU’s Dr Jane Suiter.

Handelaar roused the meeting with a call to propose abolition of fees for all Freedom of Information requests under the legislation after it had earlier dropped down the agenda.

“Nothing here is more important than removing fees from FOI,” Handelaar told the meeting.

A vote was put to the floor – that is members of all four working groups combined – to make the call for FOI fee abolition a priority in the forthcoming report to government on civil society’s OGP wish-list. It was carried unanimously.

Participants also shared their thoughts on how Ireland’s OGP engagement could take shape in the years and months ahead. These proposals too will be included in a report which Nuala Haughey will compile in the coming fortnight. The report will posted on this website before being forwarded to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER).  That department, under the leadership of Minister Brendan Howlin, is handling Ireland’s pending membership of the Open Government Partnership.

The timetable from here on, as William Beausang and Nuala Haughey both reminded the gathering, is for the civil society report to go to DPER before the end of September.

The Government has to consider its own proposals for the Action Plan, and any other input from specific sectors of society which seek to have their wishes included.

Further discussions between civil society and government will take place in the autumn as the Action Plan comes together, with a working deadline of December 2013.

Minister Howlin will attend a high level meeting of the Open Government Partnership next month, but the National Action Plan for Ireland will be formally presented at an OGP summit early next year.

In short, watch this space as Ireland moves towards real action towards open – and better – government.

Final OGP Meeting Report

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