7 October 2013

A Cambridge academic writing in the Guardian Public Leaders’ forum has questioned the fad for openness – open data, open policymaking, open governance etc.  With New Zealand indicating interest in joining the other 60 countries committing to the Open Government Partnership, how much transparency, public participation and collaboration, will result?  “…If the hype gets too far ahead of the reality we risk losing the public’s trust…”

The enthusiasm that President Obama expressed on first taking office and which was picked up by British Ministers apparently has a new convert in the New Zealand Prime Minister.  But developments to date largely focus on digital services which are a poor substitute for substantial openness, for increasing community participation in “…deciding on priorities or setting an agenda…” The fear is that “…we will have beautiful tools that don’t make any impact on how policy is made or how the public actually interacts with government…”

“…being digital is not the same thing as being open.”

The proposition is that governments must acknowledge how much control of the decision-making process at all levels they are willing to cede, and what they will do with community input. Growing interest in open government “… should not be squandered for a lack of clear thinking on how openness can be achieved and where it can add to engagement and legitimacy…”