Michael MacAulay

Dr. Michael Macaulay
Director of the Institute of Governance and Policy Studies (IGPS) and is Associate Professor in Public Management at the School of Government at Victoria University

New Zealand Action over Open Government Partnership

by Michael Macaulay

Membership of the open Government Partnership was one of the recommendations in TINZ’s Integrity Plus National Integrity Assessment study and it is very god news, therefore, that New Zealand finally published its Open Government Partnership Action plan at the end of October

It’s also great to see that the plan was well received by the OGP Support Unit, who praised it as “very well thought out, thorough, clear, and specific” (OGP’s reaction and all relevant documents can be found on the SSC’s dedicated Open Government Partnership web pages) and while the Government has received criticism in some quarters for its consultation procedures, the unveiling of the plan is to be warmly welcomed.

Without question, the OGP is a hugely valuable initiative and one in which New Zealand can and should play a global leadership role.  Indeed, if TINZ experiences at the OGP summit in May are anything to go by, then it is expected of us to play such a role, particularly by our neighbours and partners in the Asia Pacific region. 

The Action Plan focuses on four key initiatives:

  1. the Government’s Better Public Service (BPS) Results programme
  2. the Government ICT Strategy and Action Plan to 2017
  3. the Government’s response to the 2013 Transparency International New Zealand’s National Integrity System Assessment Report, and
  4. the Kia TÅ«tahi Relationship Accord.

Obviously the first two commitments are already well underway and are therefore relatively easy to map as they develop.  The response to the NIS report, however, is more complicated inasmuch as there are so many recommendations to address.  The key questions facing future OGP discussion, therefore, is which recommendations to tackle, in which order, and how we can ensure that a long-term vision is not lost in translation.

In a sense, however, this all reflects a more general challenge: how can the Action Plan be implemented so that it achieves maximum participation?  Without public involvement the entire OGP project is meaningless so it is now imperative to start thinking of ways of connecting with the wider NZ community.  Here are a few suggestions at developing a participation infrastructure:

  1. Discover what it already out there.  Evidence suggests that there are many examples of local and community projects underway that fit entirely within the grand challenges[1] and values[2] of the OGP.  Let’s find out what’s happening and map these onto future plans – the more that emerges from our local communities the more power OGP will have.
  2. Connect the dots.  Creating a map will not only allow us to see what may already fall under the banner of OGP, but can also enable us to be inspired to create ever more innovative approaches.  Let all those people who are already engaged in community and local projects speak with each other and to the rest of us.  Let’s listen to their stories. 
  3. Adopt a whole of government approach. OGP potentially affects so many different agencies and government departments.  Let’s develop communication across government and again see how people can work with each other.
  4. Use all available channels.  There are so many ways of communicating with people and encouraging participation that we should not limit ourselves to any given channel.  Public events, online discussions, informal groups  all have a role to play.
  5. Develop networks New Zealand is a small country that allows it to have a superb array of groups and organisations in a range of sectors – civil society, business, academic, community – and all of these can and should be a conduit to promoting OGP.  These can be interlinked around an OGP hub that allows groups to talk among themselves, with each other and with the OGP team.

One thing seems absolutely certain: there will be no shortage of people ready and willing to take part in the discussion.  Developing a participation infrastructure will build momentum not only in implementing the current Action plan but also building new ones throughout the years to come.

A public event The OGP Action Plan – what next for New Zealand? was held on Monday November 17th by the Institute for Governance and Policy Studies where all these ideas and more were discussed. The Victoria University-IGPS hosted event provided an opportunity for an open discussion not only about the details of the plan but also the next steps for evaluation and implementation. It is time to build on all the hard work that has already been undertaken, to move forward and for grass-roots-led New Zealanders to play a leading role in OGP.

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