Group discussion

As we enter the community consultation phase to draft the Open Government Partnership (OGP) 4th National Action Plan (NAP4) for New Zealand, is it time to consider a different approach?

The development of previous NAPs has clearly demonstrated there is a group of engaged citizens and organisations committed to preserving our democracy and increasingly opening up government in Aotearoa New Zealand.

I’m not here to revisit the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM) reports. Nor to revisit the many public, private and media conversations with robust critique about the formation and delivery of previous NAPs and New Zealand Government’s commitment to OGP.

Instead I’m suggesting New Zealand change its approach. We need to work together and make our presented actions more complete to ensure their chances of adoption are vastly improved.

Shortfalls have inhibited progress

The facts are this – the New Zealand Government is a member of the OGP global movement. The State Services Commission (SSC) has committed (limited) resources to managing our OGP commitments. This includes an Officials Group representing government agencies and an external Expert Advisory Group. There is currently no money committed by the New Zealand Government to roll out new actions. There is currently no resource committed to marketing and communication, to ensure that engagement opportunities reach the right audiences.

Although hundreds of actions have been submitted to this point, there remains limited uptake of these proposed actions in development of the NAPs. At the end of the day, the NZ Government makes the final decision on what actions are adopted.

Is this right or wrong and does it need to change? Much has been written about these facts, but instead I suggest we reframe our approach.

A fresh approach

Let’s start asking how we can make our suggested actions compelling enough that they be adopted.  It’s time to try something different.

We can generate opportunity to present our actions as fully formed. These can already have committed delivery from a civil society group/organisation, with a partnership government agency already on-board. They can be sufficiently resourced from government, philanthropic or business funding. Proposed commitments within an NAP would be presented as fully formed actions with committed resources and partnerships.

As the State Services Minister, Chris Hipkins (also responsible for open government) needs to demonstrate public leadership around NZ Government’s commitments to OGP. He needs to ensure the voice of civil society is accurately represented. Minister Hipkins has already said he was committed to “push hard to go even further and faster” for the current NAP3 and therefore, we can rightly expect the same for the forthcoming NAP4.

Let’s change the conversation and the method of forming OGP NAPs.

We know the current methods of engagement aren’t working and don’t lead to actions that truly reflect the aspirations of civil society. This leads to feelings of frustration, mistrust and disengagement.

Let’s use our energy to form solid suggested actions, identify the right support at both civil society and government level, find the resources, and ensure our ideas cannot be shelved. This will be a far better use of our time and energy.

This article was originally published in the Transparency Times – https://www.transparency.org.nz/newsletter/transparency-times-february-2020/