Ann Allan on the Open Government Network
In this guest blog, we hear from Ann Allan who goes into how and why she has joined the NI Open Government Network, what they're up to and how you can help...
Last year I wrote a blog on vixenswithconvictions.com about my reasons for joining the open Government Network in Northern Ireland. They are probably different reasons why others joined and I won’t go over them again. (You can however read them here)
Suffice to say that I hadn’t a clue what I was getting in to but as they say in Norn Iron I went along for the craic.
I didn’t know what it was about nor what I was expected to do.
So I did what any sane person would do and for the first couple of meetings and kept my mouth shut. I was afraid that I might say something stupid but I soon learned a lot of what was being discussed was common sense.
When I got round to stuttering my first question and nobody batted an eyelid I knew that this was something to which I could contribute.
Age and experience are a great asset when facing an unknown scenario.
So what in simple terms what is it all about and how can we as citizens find out what decisions are being taken on our behalf?
I see it as an attempt to gain insight as to what goes on behind the closed doors of Stormont and our local councils. I think our elected representatives need to be much more accountable for their actions? Don’t you?
We have seen from recent television programmes such as Spotlight that we certainly need more transparency as to where tax payers money is going.
Do you ever stop and wonder “Why in the world would any one decide that” or ” I’d love to have been a fly on the wall when that decision was made.”
At the launch in Malone House Felicity Huston brought to our attention a subject that caused some amusement but is a problem for many residents of East Belfast.
Dogs that for years were allowed to roam freely in the Stormont estate were without rhyme or reason now confined to walking on the lead. Various attempts were made to find out from those that made the decision what the reasoning was behind it but to date to no avail.
Not a matter of life and death I hear you, say but a major bugbear for the dog walkers of the area and of course the dogs!
We had a very successful launch on the 5th November. Don’t think there was any significance in the date. We hope to use more persuasive methods than gunpowder to encourage our MLAs to be more open with their citizens.
There was an excellent turnout. Simon Hamilton, the Northern Ireland finance minister,even came along. He conjured up a picture of men in white coats when he informed us that he had set up a Public Sector innovation lab.
This ‘lab’ would explore the feasibility of open policy making.
Ok, my hopes were somewhat dashed as I thought the men in white coats could be planning an intervention at Stormont.
Peter Osborne and Paul Braithwaite both of whom have been responsible, with others, for progressing the open government network were present.
Peter had carried out face to face interviews with those local politicians who had agreed to take part in a survey regarding awareness of open government action plans.
However, out of 22 of those interviewed only 4% were actively involved. Sort of reinforces the notion that they want to make decisions with the least possibly scrutiny.
There have been some very productive meetings since then and a temporary steering committee has been set up.
We are in the process of choosing office bearers and also identifying an organisation to take on the function of a network secretariat over the next two years at least.
We are still at the embryonic stage but hope to give birth to a fully formed and effective organisation. We need assistance to grow and strengthen.
This is how you can help. We need volunteers. We will need help in spreading the word.
How? I hear you asking. Well, maybe you would like to go along to your local council meetings and tweet what is happening. Perhaps you are good at communicating information and could attend our workshops or give talks to local organisations.
You may have ideas to promote and support the network. So if you would like to help make our elected officials more accountable to you as a citizen and you have a few hours to spare, or if you just want to know more, click here for more information.