Interview of Keitha Booth new Open Government Partnership reporter

Liz Brown

TINZ Board Member

National Integrity System Project Manager

Former Banking Ombudsman

Keitha Booth has been appointed to succeed Steven Price as the Open Government Partnership reporter for New Zealand. She speaks to Liz Brown.

Tell me something about the role of the OGP reporter and how you came to be appointed.

There is an Independent Reporting Mechanism which is associated with the OGP and is run out of the OGP headquarters in Washington. It appoints one person from each country member of OGP to be the independent reporter for that country. The reporter is expected to report twice on each two-year OGP national plan, a progress report at the end of the first year and a further report at the end of the second year. The reports are the main way stakeholders can track OGP progress in individual countries.

The independent reviewer is employed and paid by the Independent Reporting Mechanism, and reports through that body.  There is an intensive two-day training programme before an independent reporter starts work on the progress report and further training ahead of preparing the end-of-term report.

The selection process is a rigorous one. The Independent Reporting Mechanism first seeks expressions of interest and draws up a shortlist from those who have expressed interest. The shortlisted candidates then sit a 2½ hour test of their writing and analytical ability, followed by an online interview. The IRM’s independent experts panel assesses candidates for actual, potential or perceived conflicts of interest and at this point the New Zealand government is also asked for an assessment of conflicts of interest.  This is the only part played by the NZ government in the selection process.

How did you become interested in open government, and what background and skills do you bring to your new role?

I have been interested in government since the civics classes of my primary school days.  A visit to the Parliamentary Library as I was completing primary school convinced me that was where I wanted to work.  After university, I started as the Copyright Officer at the Library, and that was the beginning of a career focused on government information and its availability. It became very clear to me then, even when we had a centralised Government Printing Office, that government information was not well managed and accessible.

In 1996, after a period in the private sector using government information extensively, I was appointed as Information Centre Manager, NZ Ministry of Economic Development, after the Government Printing Office had been sold and government information was more difficult to find. There was little understanding of the nature of Crown copyright. Both there and later at the National Library, the State Services Commission and Land Information New Zealand, I worked on what became the government’s open information and data policies. I am pleased that these policies mean that there is now much more government data available for the public to use innovatively and legally. For example, GPS applications and weather forecasts use this open data. Anyone can also copy and remix the openly licensed items in Te Papa’s online collection and via Digital New Zealand.

The OGP and the IRM both consider I have the background and ability for the role – and they and I see the key attributes as independence, commitment to dealing in fact-based assessments, and, probably the most important of all, persistence.

What is your approach to the role of independent reporter, and what are your priorities?

There is some time pressure as New Zealand’s second OGP national action plan was due at the end of July 2016, but the time was extended and the plan was published in October 2016. However, I still had to complete a progress report for the period to the end of June 2017.

There was a consultation period about the development of the second plan, due on 31 July. The draft progress report is due by 1 October 2017.

Then I move to assessing progress on the commitments from October through to the end of June. Early next year, I will start my review of the second year, with the draft end of term report due by 15 September 2018.

OGP plans require governments to engage with and to facilitate the participation of civil society in the planning process.  I find that the concept of civil society is not well understood in New Zealand, either at a government level or in our wider society. It is difficult to engage with civil society organisations outside Wellington or to identify all those that may have a particular interest in sections of the OGP plan. Wide and effective consultation is a high priority for me.

How would you like to receive feedback from interested persons and organisations, and what are the deadlines?

Feedback should be sent by email to keithabooth@gmail.com no later than 30 September on progress on this year’s commitments.

The reports will be launched in January 2018 and 2019.

Information about the Plan including a downloadable copy of the Plan, can be found at www.ogp.org.nz.

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