Executive made start on Open Government commitments but more needs to be done
The recent media attention on high profile government policies including the Strategic Investment Fund and the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, has illustrated the need for more transparency and accountability in Northern Ireland politics.
Since its inception in November 2014, the Open Government Network NI, which was set up and resourced by the Building Change Trust, has been lobbying hard for the Stormont Executive to commit to more public scrutiny of its policies and procedures. The Network has called for the Executive to agree upon a range of commitments that would transform the political landscape.
In response, four commitments were published by the Department of Finance to:
- Promote greater levels of public sector innovation including seeking to establish a New Executive Innovation Fund.
- Develop and trial effective open policy-making and public engagement methods including Government and civil society co-designing a pilot project to test open policy making methodology.
- Investigate implementation of the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) in the Department of Finance’s Central Procurement operations including developing a visualisation tool with contracts data as part of the Executive’s Open Data Strategy.
- Open-up government for greater accountability, improve public services and building a more prosperous and equal society including increasing the proportion of public sector agencies to have published open data.
It was the most significant recognition by the political establishment of the need to increase democratic accountability since the formation of the Building Change Trust and subsequently Open Government Network NI.
Northern Ireland may have been the first region in the UK to establish such a network but the powers-that-be have been slow to respond and there is still a lot of work to be done in the years ahead.
The Open Government Network and the Building Change Trust will be continuing to press hard for more positive measures such as the publication of Ministerial diaries, detailed information on the funding of political parties and the establishment of a lobbying register in Northern Ireland.
There is an increasing demand and appetite from the public for higher levels of transparency from their politicians. People want to see value for money, a more efficient use of resources and a fully functioning political administration that addresses their needs.
The Open Government Network NI under the auspices of the Trust is working closely with the Executive to ensure that the four commitments made to date are delivered and that citizens are fully involved in monitoring them, and it will continue push for more ambitious and wide-ranging commitments from the Northern Ireland Executive to shine a light in all corners of the administration.