Let’s sharpen NZ’s 2018-2020 open government commitments

Keitha Booth

Independent Researcher for New Zealand’s Open Government Partnership

COVID-19 adversity has given the New Zealand government an unexpected opportunity to work more deeply on its 2018-2020 Open Government Partnership (OGP) National Action Plan (NAP). The OGP is allowing member countries to extend the timeline for their existing NAPs that were due for completion on 30 June 2020. By 31 August 2020, countries must declare to OGP their intentions to expand the content of their plans during a one year deadline extension.

The OGP warns that transparency and accountability cannot be put on lockdown.

I understand the New Zealand government is accepting the offer to extend. It is adding new activities to its 2018-2020 NAP and moving its completion date to 30 June 2021. This gives government agencies leading the 12 commitments, an extra year to fully tackle the social, economic, political, or environmental problems they initially identified and also take COVID-19 into account. I will have more time to work with the public to assess how this NAP has increased access to information, civic participation and public accountability in New Zealand.

In the February 2020 New Zealand Design Report 2018-2020  I rated two NAP commitments as potentially having transformative impact for the public: Commitment 4 – “making New Zealand’s secondary legislation readily accessible”; and Commitment 11 – “authoritative dataset of government organisations as open data for greater transparency”. I rated the potential of the other ten as minor and noted that Commitment 8,  review of government algorithms, is a new frontier in open governance.

So, over this July 2020 we, the NZ bubble of five million, have a new open government opportunity: to propose more ambitious activities for the extended 2018-2020 NAP, including responding to COVID-19. This will add weight to the Minister of State Services’ February 2019 statement: “Rather than taking the new plan as being the ultimate end state, I’m going to push hard to go even further and faster”. Send your thoughts to ogpnz@ssc.govt.nz.

Here are my suggestions for the updated plan:

Commitment One: Engagement with Parliament

  • Work with more ethnicities and with social groups with accessibility constraints
  • Release Hansard and other core Parliamentary information in structured formats.

Commitment Two: Youth Parliament

  • Strengthen school-aged students’ ability to pre-register to vote.

Commitment Three: School leavers’ toolkit

  • Use digital badging to support evaluation and measure student engagement
  • Publish English and Māori Medium civics education resources for teachers
  • Deliver training and support for teachers and evaluate schools/kura use of Toolkit.

Commitment Four: Making New Zealand’s secondary legislation readily accessible

  • Work with the Department of Internal Affairs to carry out Cabinet’s directive to explore options for making local authorities’ legislation and by-laws more accessible to users.

Commitment Five: Public participation in policy development

Commitment Six: Service design

  • Enforce implementation of the Digital Service Design Standard and assessment model
  • Evaluate whether government services are more responsive, open, citizen-centric and user-focussed as envisaged by the Design Standard and assessment model.

Commitment Seven: Official information

  • Publish the advice to Government on whether to initiate a formal Official Information Act (OIA) review and ensure the Minister’s commitment to re-write the OIA announced on 7 July, considers concerns raised by every NZ OGP IRM review
  • Measure and report to Cabinet on implementation of Milestone 3 (proactive release)
  • Develop a centralised government platform for proactive and OIA releases

Commitment Eight: Review of Government use of algorithms

  • Document all algorithms used by government and release the register
  • Complete charter, develop guidelines with the public and train across the state sector
  • Extend scope to open algorithms and implement new programme and milestones.

Commitment Nine: Increase the visibility of government’s data stewardship practices

Commitment Ten: Monitoring the effectiveness of public body information practices

  • Work with under-performing agencies to drive improved practices
  • Seek public feedback on whether this commitment’s objective has been met.

Commitment Eleven: Authoritative dataset of government organisations as open data for greater transparency

Commitment Twelve: Open Procurement

  • Work with the public and government agencies to cover all awarded government contracts and historial contract data and adopt the Open Contracting Data Standard.

These suggestions are collated from my IRM Design Report 2018-2020, which drew on  my 2019 and 2020 research and interviews with members of the public; the public comments on the draft NAP; my subsequent 2020 desktop research; NAP progress reports to the State Services Commission; and my March 2020 meetings with government commitment leads.

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