Citizen engagement is what open government is all about. It underpins many of the other topics in this guide - with active citizenship often being a vital link between transparency and accountability. The Open Government Partnership recognises this in its eligibility criteria, stating that: ‘Open Government requires openness to citizen participation and engagement in policymaking and governance, including basic protections for civil liberties’ (Open Government Partnership).
In an increasingly complex world, citizens’ input is a critical resource for policy-making. Good decision-making requires the knowledge, experiences, views and values of the public. Implementing difficult decisions depends on citizens’ consent and support. Unless citizens understand and are engaged in the decision themselves, trust is easily lost (OECD, 2009).
Civil liberties provide the critical foundations which enable people to participate without fear and to disagree peacefully with each other and with their government. Basic human rights including freedom of speech, expression and the press; freedom of religion; freedom of assembly and association; and the right to due judicial process are critical in supporting a political culture where citizens are willing and able to participate in public debate.
People around the world consistently indicate that they are not content simply to engage with government through periodic elections. But they are discouraged by the real and perceived control of public decisions and decision-makers by small political and economic elites.. It is important that citizen engagement is well designed and properly resourced, and that it is born from a genuine desire to involve the public and take their input into account. Good citizen engagement can support the effective functioning of democracy, the legitimacy of government, the successful implementation of policy and the achievement of social outcomes. Bad engagement practice can lead to poor decisions, and disengagement by citizens (Brodie et al, 2011).
Overcoming public disengagement, and effectively responding to citizens requires a culture change in how governments interact and cooperate with the public, mechanisms for hearing and taking into account the voices of citizens institutionalized into the behaviour and culture of public institutions.
NB: Our use of the word “citizen” in this chapter is to be understood in its broadest possible sense, including all inhabitants of a country or locality. There is understandable concern that the term can be used to exclude groups without voting rights and/or are not naturalised in a country, including children and young people, migrants and refugees. This is not our intention; indeed, it is groups such as these that should be the focus of particular efforts to engage them with decisions that affect their lives.
- Deliberative Democracy Consortium
- International Association for Public Participation
- Society for Participatory Research in Asia
- Twaweza East Africa
- MKSS India
- National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation US
- Division for Public Administration and Development Management, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs
- World Bank Social Development Department
- International Center for Not-for-profit Law
- European Center for Not-for-profit Law
- International Association of Facilitators
- Making All Voices Count
This Topic was developed by Involve (Tim Hughes and Simon Burall) with inputs from Tim Davies - Practical Participation, Claire-Marie Foulquier-Gazagnes - Sciences Po Paris & HEC Paris, Rikki Dean - London School of Economics, Claudia Cappelli - UNIRIO - Federal University of State of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Informatic Department, Rakesh Rajani -- Twaweza, Rodrigo Davies - Center for Civic Media, MIT, Rebecca M. Townsend - Manchester Community College, Connecticut, Craig Thomler - Delib Australia, Lorna Ahlquist - Empowering Practice, Scotland, Benjamin Allen - Democracy and Good Governance Consulting, Adam Fletcher - CommonAction Consulting, Bill Badham - Co-Director, Practical Participation and Gilbert Sendugwa - Africa Freedom of Information Centre.
Examples in Practice
Australia has developed guidance on online consultation
In July 2010 the Australian Government published the Declaration of Open Government. The Declaration states that:“the Australian government now declares that, in order to promote greater participation in Australia’s democracy, it is committed to open government based on a culture of engagement, built on better access to and use of government held information, and sustained by the innovative use of technology.”In support of these goals the government developed a guidance on online consultation and the use of social media.
Croatia has a programme of cooperation with the not-for-profit sector
The first document between the Croatian Government and NGOs was the “Program of Cooperation between the Government of the Republic of Croatia and the Non-Governmental, Non-Profit Sector” which was signed in 2001.
The Program of Cooperation is based on “common values of modern democracy and the values of civic initiatives founded on social changes, cooperation, solidarity, social justice, transparency, personal ability and responsibility, participation in decision-making, consideration for personality, self-organisation, consideration for organizational diversity and continuous learning. It aims to create effective mechanisms that will enhance the communication between the Government and the Sector.”
Although the Program for Cooperation listed the obligations of the Government and NGOs, it was not perceived as a legally binding document. The Program was conceived as a living document – “a starting point, not a conclusion” – with an “authority evolved from the confirmation” given by both sides. Additionally, the Program of Cooperation anticipated the creation of local and regional compacts so as to decentralize cross-sectoral cooperation.
The implementation of the Program of Cooperation has been evaluated positively. It led to legislative reforms benefiting NGOs, including the new Law on Associations, the Lottery Law, the Law on Volunteerism and draft Law on Foundations, the Code of Good Practice in Grant-Giving, tax law amendments providing deductions for donations to NGOs, and the creation of local compacts in cities throughout Croatia.
Croatia requires public consultation in policy making
Croatia made improving the quality of their public consultations a key tenet of their OGP Action Plan; ensuring citizens are
given every opportunity to discuss new laws, regulations and acts. The Croatian government developed a law requiring consultation in legislation and regulation. It was later amended to ensure that not only must consultation take place, but the results are recognized as an integral part of decision making, and are reported on with feedback.
Denmark set up a centre of expertise on collaborative democracy, starting with a focus on technology issues
The Danish Board of Technology (DBT) (now the Danish Board of Technology Foundation) was set up by the Danish parliament to disseminate knowledge about technology, including the potential impact of technology innovation on society and on the environment. The DBT conceived its central mission as promoting debate and public enlightenment in order to evaluate technology and to advise the Danish Parliament and other governmental bodies. The Board pioneered a range of different methods for engaging citizens in the evaluation of new technologies.
It has also established the Center for Collaborative Democracy (CfSD) to strengthen the Danish tradition for democratic dialogue and cooperation among citizens, elected officials, experts, businesses and organizations. CfSD offer advice to municipalities, regions, agencies, ministries, associations, organizations and companies on planning and execution of participatory processes and on using the results. CfSD’s ambition is to improve decision-culture by providing professional involvement;
The purpose of CfSD is to apply this knowledge and methodological expertise in new areas that do not need to have to do with technology. It may be, for example in “Participatory Budgeting”, with people involved in local government budgeting, employee involvement in innovation in the welfare sector, the development of associations and organizations strategies, urban planning, CSR and many other areas.
Denmark’s Mindlab involves citizens and business in in problem solving with government ministries
MindLab is a Danish cross-governmental innovation unit which involves citizens and businesses in developing new solutions for the public sector. MindLab is instrumental in helping key decision-makers and employees from its parent ministries view their efforts from the outside-in, to see them from a citizen’s perspective. MindLab uses this approach as a platform for co-creating better ideas.
It works with service users, citizens and other stakeholders at early planning stages of service delivery. For example, Mindlab worked with users to test mobile devices for doing tax returns and collected their feedback, which resulted in changing government plans and avoiding costly service mistakes. It developed social networks with and for highly skilled migrant workers to motivate them to stay in Denmark.
MindLab was created in 2002 for the Ministry of Economic and Business Affairs as an internal incubator for invention and innovation. At that time, the vision of an in-house laboratory as a centre of creativity and innovation was unique for a ministry.
In 2007, a new strategy and a new goal were set for MindLab: its focus would be the active involvement of both citizens and companies in developing new public-sector solutions. At the same time, MindLab acquired two additional parent ministries, namely the Ministries of Taxation and Employment. In this manner MindLab also became a fulcrum of intra-governmental cooperation. Finally, the strategy involved MindLab taking on a number of professional researchers, with the aim of establishing a more robust methodological foundation for its work.
Today, MindLab has considerable experience with innovation processes that are based on the realities experienced by citizens and businesses, and which also promote collaboration across the public sector. MindLab has become a part of three ministries and one municipality: the Ministry of Business and Growth, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Employment and Odense Municipality and form a collaboration with the Ministry for Economic Affairs and the Interior.
Estonia set up an online ‘People’s Assembly’ to make proposals for government reform
The People’s Assembly Rahvakogu (www.rahvakogu.ee) is an online platform for crowd-sourcing ideas and proposals to amend Estonia’s electoral laws, political party law, and other issues related to the future of democracy in Estonia. The Assembly focuses on five political sore spots: party financing, political parties, the electoral system, civil participation in politics and the politicization of public offices.
In a structured process proposals were collected and discussed online, before being worked through by experts and clustered into a series of topics and scenarios, backed by impact analysis. This was then put forward for debate during a one-day ‘deliberation day’ involving members of the public, selected to proportionally represent (voting) age groups, regions, ethnicities and genders.
1,800 registered users posted nearly 6,000 ideas and 300 people participated in the deliberation day. Parliament has since set a timetable for the most popular proposals to be introduced in the formal proceedings.
The initiative was developed by the President following a series of scandals involving senior politicians widespread criticism of the government and the development of ‘Charter 12′ an Estonian citizens’ initiative signed by 17 prominent public figures,calling for greater democratic accountability. The assembly was organized by volunteersfrom NGOs such as the Estonian Cooperation Assembly, the Praxis Center for Policy Studies, the Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organizations (EMSL), the e-Governance Academy and the Open Estonia Foundation, with the support of the government. It will not necessarily become a permanent institution.
Finland is committed to developing dialogue skills in public administration as part of its OGP action plan
Finland OGP Action Plan includes a commitment to emphasizing dialogue skills in the job descriptions of civil servants. Competences needed to enhance open government will be specified and the importance of dialogue skills will be highlighted in job descriptions, in recruitment criteria and in assessing personal performance in positions demanding such competences. In addition training in customer oriented service design will be arranged for civil servants and citizens.
In Australia consultation is required before any regulatory change
A Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) is required, under the Australian Government’s requirements, when a regulatory proposal is likely to have an impact on business or the not-for-profit sector, unless that impact is minor or does not substantially alter existing arrangements. The primary role of the RIS is to improve government decision-making processes by ensuring that all relevant information is presented to the decision maker when a policy decision is being made.
Departments are required to demonstrate that a consultation commensurate with the magnitude of the problem and the size of the potential impact of the proposal has been undertaken, and guidelines and support are in place to assist them.
In Madagascar the government established a mediation process to address tensions over a large infrastructure project
Nosy Be is a remote island off the North Western coast of Madagascar that was ear-marked for a large, privately-funded infrastructure project in the mid-2000s. The project catalyzed social tensions between different layers of government and local communities. In response, the national government development programme and the World Bank commissioned a consultancy firm to facilitate a mediation process and find a way forward using a tool called the Local Governance Barometer (LGB).
They took participatory approach, engaging Government, civil society and the private sector to identify an appropriate local governance model. Over a three-month period the different stakeholders were able to air their grievances and come up with an action plan to increase government accountability and social responsibility within infrastructure development on the island, improve civil society and private sector participation in development planning, and increase awareness about and enforcement of legislation on land rights, women’s rights and corruption. A mixed committee was then tasked with taking the plan to national Government and relevant donors.
The initiative increased channels for collaboration and communication between the municipality and local communities, improved awareness of complaints procedures.
Source: DUFILS, J.-M. 2010. The Local Governance Barometer – Measuring Governance in Madagascar. In: CLAASEN, M. & ALPÍN-LARDIÉS, C. (eds.) Social Accountability in Africa: Practitioners Experiences and Lessons. Pretoria: Institute for Democracy in South Africa (IDASA).
In Tanzania the government established wanachi.go.tz a website to submit and track complaints and feedback
Wananchi.go.tz is a website was developed by the government to enable Tanzanian citizens to send feedback,opinions,complaints to the government and to track and follow up on queries.
The system aims:
- To help improve citizen awareness and satisfaction about the services they receive or believe they should be receive by enabling fast and efficient resolutions of relevant citizen submissions
- To collect data that will assist the Government of Tanzania to identify opportunities for improvement and change, to optimise service and minimise complaint in the future
As part of its OGP commitment the government has committed to improve the website to make it more robust and responsive as a platform for citizens to participate in the running of Government, and produce monthly reports on effectiveness of the citizen‟s website.
In the US the House and Senate and House removed restrictive rules governing Members’ use of social media
Before the digital age, Congress established ‘franking rules’ on communication to constituents. These governed how Members could use public funds to send mass mailings to constituents, while guarding against incumbents using this privilege to advance political campaigns. When these rules were extended to include social media, at first they were restrictively applied, effectively making popular social media services such as Facebook and Twitter out of bounds. This reflected fears that using social media would imply a commercial endorsement through association with advertising, could tarnish the status of the institution, might create security issues, and would make inappropriate political activity harder to catch.
Following emerging experience, debates and a campaign led by the Sunlight Foundation, in 2008, the House and Senate revised these rules and allowed members and staff to use social media to correspond with constituents more freely, while still maintaining the principles of no product endorsement, no partisan material and no unrelated personal information.
While there is no overall social media policy, the House and Senate rules now makes clear that Federal law and House Rules on communication apply to all ‘official content of material posted by the Member on any website’, but not to the broader social media platform itself.
In Uganda a consultation with young people provided inputs to the National Development Plan
In Uganda a consultation process was carried out to involve youth in the development of Uganda’s Five-Year National Development Plan (2009 to 2014), especially regarding the key issues affecting young people, such as unemployment, education, health and poverty. Fifty-two young people (providing national representation for Uganda’s districts and youth-led organisations), were recruited from youth NGOs, student associations and youth disability groups. This group discussed the key thematic areas of the NDP and formulated recommendations for the government. Key members of the staff team responsible for the consultation were also young people.
National newspaper advertisement invited contributions via SMS, and the young people involved were provided with training on strategy analysis. Four groups created strategies in the key areas of education, employment, health and population, and gender and social development and twelve key strategic recommendations were agreed. Two young people presented the recommendations to the National Planning Authority and Ministry of Children and Youth and consultation outcomes were disseminated across all key ministries and decision- makers in Uganda.
The draft NDP mentions youth entrepreneurship (USD$5m earmarked for start-ups); vocational skills for out-of-school youth with attention to quality and moral aspects and youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health and rights. There is an emphasis on vulnerable youth in the sections on gender and social protection.The government is now considering follow-up regional consultations, and youth participation in monitoring and evaluation of the plan.
Mexico set up a digital platform to ‘improve your school’
Mexico spends more per student than most industrialized nations but has the lowest levels of academic achievement in the OECD. As part of its OGP Action Plan the government-civil society working group set out to improve the information that parents have about schools, and enable them to ‘improve your school’.
The Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO) cross referenced test results with basic data on all schools and made them accessible on a new website ‘Mejora tu Escuela’. Users can search and compare schools, and provide their own comments. Where problems are identified, like deteriorating infrastructure or principals that mismanage the school budget, they are linked to possible solutions that can be implemented by parents and local CSOs.“The more information you have on schools, the more likely you are to demand higher quality education”, says Gabriela Segovia of the Federal Institute on Access to Information and Data Protection (IFAI).
Public participation is enshrined in the Constitution of South Africa
The South African Constitution enshrines the principle that ‘The public must be encouraged to participate in policy making’. The Constitutional Court interprets this principle to include the responsibility to build public capacity for involvement and to give weight to public responses.Courts may strike down as invalid any legislation passed without adequate public participation
Parliamentary rules require the publication of a notice of intention to introduce a bill in the Government Gazette before it is tabled. The notice will usually contain an invitation to submit written submissions on the draft bill. In addition to oral and written submissions, public participation is enabled through setting up of public participation offices. increasing access to constituency offices and conducting parliamentary roadshows.
The Public Service Commission (PSC) has over the years investigated the mechanisms implemented by government departments to facilitate public participation in the Public Service. Overall, the PSC’s studies have found that the nature and extent of public participation is generally adhoc and inadequate, and that concerted efforts are necessary to improve the situation. One of the critical measures it identified was the need for departmental guidelines on how public participation is carried out and used to inform policy and practice.The PSC therefore developed a generic template which departments can in turn use to develop their own internal guidelines.
The Canadian government developed an Accord with the Voluntary Sector
The Accord is a framework that represents a public commitment by the Government of Canada and the voluntary sector to more open, transparent, consistent and collaborative ways for the two sectors to work together. It has as its base are the values of active citizenship, democracy, equality, diversity, inclusion and social justice.
The Accord establishes the following commitments to action for the Government of Canada and the voluntary sector:
- The Government will consider the implications of legislation, policies and programs on the sector and engage the sector in open, informed and sustained dialogue, and
- The voluntary sector will identify important or emerging issues and trends and bring them to the Government of Canada’s attention and call upon the full depth and diversity of voluntary organizations when at the table.
A Code of Good Practice on Funding and the Code of Good Practice on Policy Dialogue were developed as a resource of tangible, concrete ideas about how to take the spirit and guidelines of the Accord and put them into action in both government and voluntary sector organisations.
The City of Edmonton has set up a Centre for Public Involvement
The Centre for Public Involvement was proposed in 2009 as a partnership between the City of Edmonton and University of Alberta. It was proposed in response to a demonstrated and recognized need for decision-makers and the public to actively seek, consider and apply the most effective means for public involvement. The collaboration is designed to advance research and learning in the area of public involvement, with the objective of enhanced decision-making at all levels.
As an independent and non-aligned third-party organization, the Centre for Public Involvement (CPI) is focused on building the will and capacity for innovation in public involvement. Using this foundation, CPI facilitates a rich collaboration, identifying best practices, and seeking and achieving results locally, nationally and internationally.
The Centre promotes innovation and identifies and tests new models and processes in partnership with public involvement professionals, researchers, organizations, and the public. At its base, the Centre links University of Alberta faculty and students with City of Edmonton staff and decision makers. This is enhanced through additional collaborations whereby the Centre works in partnership with members of the public involvement industry to accelerate evidence based, emerging and innovative public involvement applications.
The City of Gerardton developed a plan for the city’s future through participation
The Greater Geraldton City Region in Western Australia is at a crossroads. It faces big challenges for its future growth and sustainability, with depleting fishing and agriculture on the one hand, and new developments – port and rail, large scale renewable energy and mining – on the other, each having significant implications for the city region. Geraldton is using the challenges that face them environmentally, socially and economically to revitalise their democratic governance, providing opportunities for ordinary people to play their part in co-creating their future.
Over 2,000 people (approximately 6% of the population) have been involved in deliberations. This effort has been supported by 40 volunteer Community Champions, ordinary citizens who have been trained to organise and facilitate small-scale deliberative techniques. In 2010/11, this included 36 World Cafes fostering lively discussions about the region, where people would like to see it in 2029, and how change could be implemented to reach this vision; this was followed by around 20 Conversation Cafes (in local cafes) to help understand what people meant by “the Gero feel” (often mentioned), i.e. Geraldton’s identity.
Importantly, socio-economic inclusivity and full engagement of the community was ensured through the participation of young people and local Aboriginal people in seven separate World Cafes and numerous Conversation Cafes, where they constituted the majority, as well as concerted efforts to elicit their participation in the large-scale public deliberations. Digital deliberative democracy is being generated through an innovative platform, CivicEvolution, which enables self managed groups to develop ideas that interest them into proposals that can be considered by the Alliance Group. Aided by the local newspaper’s social media site, and focusing each week on one of the deliberative proposals generated, over 4,000 residents have been attracted to comment.
These face-to-face and online deliberative processes during 2010/11 resulted in prioritised proposals (by citizens and the Alliance Group) being implemented. These included planting one million trees, now well in progress, plans for both youth and indigenous centres, more cycle pathways and better communication about 2029. Longer-term initiatives have been incorporated into the City Region Strategic Plan, Including improvement of public transport and a focus on renewable energy.
A one-day event with over 150 randomly sampled residents deliberated two big issues facing the community. Unexpectedly, they determined that the City Region should focus on becoming carbon neutral, and it should not be supportive of the mining companies’ push for a fly-in-fly-out workforce.Later in 2011, there was a focus on city regional planning. Small-scale deliberations culminated in an Enquiry by Design process involving 250 participants (citizens and stakeholders) over a three-day period. Extraordinarily, over 200 community participants remained engaged from thefirst full day of deliberation through to the end of the two afternoons/evenings. This process resulted in an agreed overall City Regional Plan with clear guidelines to underlie any future plans. Based on the outcomes of the 2029 process to date, a Community Action Plan was developed and has now become a ‘Community Charter’. This documents the community’s aspirations together with a series of practical reforms, to be jointly ‘owned’ by the citizens, industry and the government departments involved.
The Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs will conduct public hearings on the design of foreign aid programmes
The Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs will conduct public hearings on the design of future foreign aid programmes, allowing citizens and civil society to contribute input and suggestions to key development assistance issues and budgets of a certain size. This is part of the government’s OGP Action Plan.
The Government of Macedonia includes a commitment to implement its Strategy for Cooperation with the Civil Sector as part of its OGP Plan.
The Government of Macedonia includes a commitment to implement its Strategy for Cooperation with the Civil Sector as part of its OGP Plan.
The government of Mongolia has institutionalised on-going national ‘State of Democracy’ audits
Mongolia has faced the challenge of introducing democratic institutions and procedures into a long-standing traditional society. In 2003 the then government, along with civil society, decided to conduct a State of Democracy assessment. An initial desk study compiled by three international experts was published in 2005. Further research was conducted by local experts and published in 2006 report which resulted in the creation of a National Plan of Action. The on-going assessment of the state of democracy became an institutionalized process through the establishment of the Mongolian Millennium Development Goal 9 (MDG-9) on democratic governance and human rights.
The State of Democracy reports have helped raise public awareness about what democracy involves as they have been broadcast throughout the print and electronic media. The wide dissemination of the findings has generated debates on what standards of democracy citizens should expect from their government.
The Netherlands carried out a ‘State of Democracy’ assessment
The Kingdom of the Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy with representation drawn broadly from all groups in the society. In 2005 the popular rejection of the EU constitution and two prominent political assassinations in generated political turbulence and a vibrant public debate on the functioning of political institutions and practices in Netherlands. At this point the Ministry of Interior and Kingdom Relations identified the need for a comprehensive review of the state of the Netherland’s democracy. The ministry involved NGOs, journalists and civil servants in the assessment in order to record the situation and promote discussion on democracy and the need for reform. The final report was published in 2006.
The assessment revealed the need to reconsider issues such as Dutch citizenship and how government itself represents the needs and democratic aspirations of the population. The report was sent to 250 NGOs, government bodies, journalists and the Queen, (who even used one of the eight SoD topics in her Christmas speech). In addition, public debates were held, including on freedom of speech, the structure of government, the media and citizenship. An interactive web-based forum was established for online debate, and the media reported frequently on the findings of the report and the ensuing discussions. Finally, a conference was held, with the ministers present, to outline the steps for the future. The new Dutch government (in 2007) elaborated three broad reforms in the light of the assessment: including a ‘charter for responsible citizenship’, technical changes to the constitution and a pledge to reduce the complexity of government processes more generally.
The New Zealand Government has developed social media guidance
The aim is to encourage best practice social media use by government agencies, provide useful templates and tools for planning, and give an overview of the strengths, weaknesses, benefits and risks of this very important and rapidly growing toolset.The intent of the guidance is to encourage best practice social media use by government agencies, provide useful templates and tools for planning, and give an overview of the strengths, weaknesses, benefits and risks of this very important and rapidly growing toolset.Example in practice include a Facebook campaign by the Ministry of Health to provide support and advice to breastfeeding mothers.
The plan for rebuilding New Orleans was developed through participation with people across 16 cities
Hurricane Katrina shattered the city of New Orleans and exposed deep racial and economic disparities. Much of the city’s infrastructure was decimated: more than 70% of housing was damaged and entire neighborhoods were virtually destroyed; schools, hospitals and police stations were shut down. Almost 100,000 jobs were lost and 18 months later more than half of the city’s population had not returned.In the aftermath, plans to rebuild New Orleans faced a ravaged infrastructure, financial losses of enormous scale, decision-makers scrambling in crisis mode, and a citizenry whose trust in government had been abused. City officials’ early planning efforts were met with anger and protest as the community struggled with the challenges of distributing resources and reviving an entire city.
After a number of unsuccessful attempts, New Orleans approved a blueprint for rebuilding. The foundation-funded Unified New Orleans Plan would be run by the Community Support Foundation and overseen by a community advisory board comprised of neighborhood representatives and delegates from the Mayor’s office, the City Council, and the City Planning Commission. The Unified Plan would address all city-wide systems, tackling infrastructure needs like housing, flood protection, transportation and public services. It would also produce 13 district-level plans with recovery priorities for the city’s neighborhoods. The urgent need to revive the city left a remarkably short time frame for this process: the city-wide and 13 district plans were to be completed – with full community participation – in less than five months.
At the heart o the Unified Plan process were two public forums unprecedented in their size and scope. The “Community Congresses” engaged 4,000 New Orleanians across the country in developing collective recovery priorities for their city. With key decision-makers listening, citizens discussed how to ensure safety from future flooding, empower residents to rebuild safe and stable neighborhoods, provide incentives and housing so people could return, and establish sustainable, equitable public services.
To ensure the Community Congresses had representative participation, AmericaSpeaks partnered with a wide array of grassroots organizations, service providers and leaders in diaspora cities across the country. Registrants received pre-recorded calls from the Mayor; Public Service Announcements featured celebrities and free meals, childcare, transportation, and translation into Spanish and Vietnamese enabled participation for many who might otherwise have been left out.
AmericaSpeaks’ 21st Century Town Meeting methodology used networked laptops and individualised keypad polling to support facilitated, small-group discussions at diverse tables. These discussions fed into large-group sharing and decision-making. Interactive television connected participants in New Orleans with those in Baton Rouge, Houston, Dallas, and Atlanta. At the December Community Congress, participants in 16 other cities viewed the program through a webcast and submitted their views in real-time over the internet. Public television viewers in New Orleans were able to follow the programming from their homes. At day’s end, the citizens’ collective priorities were provided in writing to every participant.
The UK Government has a longstanding compact with the voluntary sector
The UK Government’s Compact with the voluntary sector was made in November 1998, and renewed in 2010. It considers areas such as involvement in policy design and consultation, funding arrangements (including grants and contracts), promoting equality, ensuring better involvement in delivering services, and strengthening independence.The Compact was developed by a Working Group including included representatives from leading voluntary and community sector umbrella bodies, representatives from community groups and organisations, volunteering organisations, Councils for Voluntary Service, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and Black and Minority Ethnic organisations. The group consulted over 25,000 organisations about what the Compact should include and the text was agreed in 1998.
A Reference Group was also set up, with membership drawn from 65 voluntary organisations, to act as a sounding board to the activities of the Working Group before and during discussion with Government. Almost all local authority areas have now developed a similar local Compact in partnership with the voluntary and community sector.
The Compact was agreed by the Government in 1998 and was signed by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, but it is not in the statute books. It is not considered legally binding but there is a legitimate expectation that its signatories (both at the national and local levels) will abide by their commitments. The failure to live up to Compact commitments has formed a part in judicial review cases but the Compact has not been the only basis for the challenge. A judge recently stated that the Compact is ‘more than a wish list’.The compact is accompanied by an Accountability and Transparency Guide, which outlines steps to take at national and local level if these principles are not followed, including dispute resolution, internal complaints procedures and ombudsmen functions.
Voluntary sector bodies state that the compact has achieved a great deal, such the principle of Full Cost Recovery and 12-week consultation.However, implementation of the Compact is still patchy and the inequality in power between Government and voluntary organisations means there is sometimes need for a separate body to step in.
The UK government has issued guidance on consultation
In the UK there are a range of laws establishing requirements for the Government to consult certain groups on certain issues. The UK Government first established a Code of Practice on Consultation in 2000 to provide guidance above and beyond these statutory requirements. The guidance has been updated several times since.
The current guidelines adopted in 2012 commits the government to improving policy making and implementation with a greater focus on robust evidence, transparency and engaging with key groups earlier in the process. The emphasis is on understanding the effects of a proposal and focussing on real engagement with key groups rather than following a set process.
The key Consultation Principles are:
- departments will follow a range of timescales rather than defaulting to a 12-week period, particularly where extensive engagement has occurred before;
- departments will need to give more thought to how they engage with and consult with those who are affected;
- consultation should be ‘digital by default’, but other forms should be used where these are needed to reach the groups affected by a policy; and
- the principles of the Compact between government and the voluntary and community sector will continue to be respected.
The UK government set up a center for public engagement on science policy following a national controversy
In the UK in the late 1998 Genetically Modified (GM) foods became a hot topic in the UK, when a televised documentary claimed that GM had potentially harmful effects on health, followed in 1999 by a staged protest event led by Greenpeace. The ensuing public outcry would ensure GM occupied the headlines for several months. By mid-1999, supermarkets withdrew all GM products from their shelves under heavy public pressure.Following the public controversy around GM technology and the House of Lords ‘Science and Society’ report, a new policy of upstream engagement was pursued by the UK government. It set up the Sciencewise programme in 2004 which aims to enable better policy making by fostering capacity within the policy making community to commission and use excellent public dialogue.
Sciencewise Expert Resource Centre established in May 2007, provides co-funding and specialist advice and support to government departments and agencies to develop and commission public dialogue activities in emerging areas of science and technology. Sciencewise is managed on behalf of the Department for Business Innovation and skills (BIS) by a consultancy in partnership with the British Science Association and the community participation charity, Involve. It is managed by a Programme Board and a Programme Management Team, who are supported by the Sciencewise Steering Group, which provides strategic advice and guidance. Two stakeholder advisory sub-groups – the Citizens’ Group and the Business Insight Group – report directly to the Steering Group.
The main aim of Sciencewise is to enable better policy-making by fostering capacity within the policy-making community to commission and use excellent public dialogue. This will ensure that all future policy involving science, technology and innovation is robustly developed, informed by public concerns and aspirations and based on all the available evidence. It offers an online resource of information, advice and guidance together with a wide range of support services aimed at policy makers and all stakeholders concerned with policy involving science and technology issues, including the public.It provides co-funding to Government departments and agencies to develop and commission public dialogue projects, helps to build capacity among departments to carry out dialogue and develops and promotes best practice. Sciencewise also provides general dialogue training and mentoring to policy makers across Government departments involved in science and technology policy issues.
The UK is establishing a fund to support developers to produce tools to make use of open aid data
The Open Data Strategy for the UK Department for International Development includes the establishment of a fund to support developers to produce innovative and useful tools to make use of IATI data. As part of the Strategy, the UK has also developed the Development Tracker which allows users to find and explore detailed information on international development projects funded by the UK Government. The site uses data published to IATI, and can also import and use data from other publishers. The site also incorporates data published by the Department for International Development’s delivery partners, initially on a small-scale, to prove the concept that aid can be traced through the aid delivery chain using open data.
The US government established a public open source project to facilitate the implementation and evolution of its Open Data Policy
When the US Government established its Open Data Policy it recognised that technology moves much faster than policy ever could. Often when writing policy for technology, agencies are stuck with outdated methods as soon as they publish new policies.
It therefore established Project Open Data on GitHub, a popular code-sharing website used by the ‘open source’ community. Project Open Data is an online collection of code, tools, and case studies to help U.S. agencies adopt the Open Data Policy . Anyone – government employees, contractors, developers, the general public – can view and contribute by editing the content, adding new pages, or adding tools.
At the onset, the General Services Administration is providing a moderator role – giving oversight and support, but over time,the vision is that contributors both inside and outside of government can be empowered to take on additional leadership roles.
Turkey sought broad public inputs into development a new constitution
The process was initiated with the call of the Government to all stakeholders to make the “Civil Constitution” that Turkey needed. CSOs set up platforms, networks and civic initiatives to engage in this dialogue and submitted their comments and proposals to the Parliamentary Committee for Developing the Constitution Proposal. The Commission established a website for sharing those comments and proposals. Overall, 401 civil society initiatives and 82.232 citizens submitted their comments and proposals on the new constitution.
Tuscany established a law promoting participation in development of regional policies
At the end of 2007 the Region of Tuscany passed Law no. 69 defining Rules on the Promotion of Participation in the Formulation of Regional and Local Policies, an innovative legal provision explicitly aimed at pro-actively promoting citizen engagement in local and regional decision making. This law institutionalizes citizen participation; through group dialogue of citizens and stakeholders in decision-making about issues or problems of public interest.
UK Open Policymaking team crowdsourced suggestions of ‘Ideal Policy Team Behaviors’
Using a simple and low cost blog, the UK Government’s Open Policymaking team, in partnership with the civil society organisation The Democratic Society, have been hosting an online discussion space exploring: ‘what open policymaking means in practice, and how we make it excellent and democratic.’
As part of this, they conducted a light touch review of ‘Ideal Policy Team Behaviours’, asking ‘policymakers- and anyone involved in delivering policy or influencing its creation- to vote on what policy teams should be doing to ensure that policymaking gets better.’
The top five to emerge were:
- Marketing the engagement exercises so that relevant stakeholders are able to contribute to the process
- Understanding how an end-user interacts with a policy area in practice
- Prototyping proposed solutions and processes
- Clearly stating (in plain English) the scope of any related consultation or engagement exercises as well as the desired outcomes
- Asking the right questions
Ukraine has established laws to simplify CSO registration and improve access to resources
The Law on Public Organisations was adopted and went into effect in January 2013. The new law simplifies registration and allows CSOs to pursue any lawful aims, engage in economic activities for not-for-profit purposes and acquire membership in public associations.
The new provisions governing the legal status of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) provides for:
- simplification of the registration procedures for public associations;
- the right of NGOs to pursue any lawful interest or objective (not only the interests of its members);
- the right of legal entities to establish and to acquire membership in public associations;
- right of public association to conduct activities throughout the territory of Ukraine, regardless of their place of registration; and
- the right of NGOs to engage in entrepreneurial activities to support their not-for-profit activities.