Open Government Partnership

10 things we learned in Canada – Global Summit of Open Government Partnership

June 6, 2019 by No Comments | Category Uncategorized


The open government team have spent this week in Ottawa, Canada at the global summit on open government. It would be impossible to summarise everything from our conversations with hundreds of people from across the globe and workshops led by reformers in government and civil society activists. So instead we’ve picked out top 10 highlights. These are the stories we think are important to share for Scotland.

  1. We can’t emphasise strongly enough how important political leadership is for the open government movement. When world leaders like Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, give their time and energy to speak at global gatherings of open government reformers, it shows support and strengthens the global movement. The Minister for Digital Government and Minister for Foreign Affairs also spoke at the summit, along with a host of senior politicians from other countries. Barack Obama was also in town and asked to meet some of the activists and reformers working on open government. Political will for this agenda cannot be underestimated. There is a tension between political support and election cycles which all too often causes challenges to the longevity and sustainability of open government meaningful work. The Philippines have overcome this successfully by embedding open government as norms, institutionalising it as the way they operate. Although unable to be in Canada because of his Parliamentary business, we realise how fortunate we are in Scotland to have strong leadership from Michael Russell, Cabinet Secretary for  Government Business and Constitutional Reform.

  1. Showing how you’ve made a difference is both incredibly important, and notoriously difficult. Yet it is the one thing that open government world needs to prove itself. Launching the first global report is an important milestone in open government’s short history. With robust evidence to show how these commitments bring about real change cannot be ignored. A hefty piece of work, with 2 volumes, you can read the full thing here or a shorter summary here:

On the same theme, Audrey Tang, once a member of the open data community-turned-Digital Minister for Taiwan led a session on evaluation and monitoring impact of civic technology. Again, highlighting the importance of measuring successes and failures is a gentle nudge for us all to start taking this a bit more seriously.

  1. Helping people understand government spend and budgets evidently is priority the world over. Budget portals for increasing financial transparency were talked about a lot at the conference. The financial portal used in South Africa was set up in partnership between civil society and government colleagues at the Treasury Board. It’s in English so take a look here: They also publish accessibly guides for the general public on each annual budget: Many countries in the global south have similar portals, something Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency have been heavily involved in advising and helping to set up. We heard from the public that they wanted to be able to track the public pound, to see where money came from and where it ended up. Is Scotland, or other countries like us ready to take on this ambitious task?

Scotland delegation in photo above infront of Tepee from right to left: (minus Catherine Schtiler, Open Knowledge Foundation) Paul Bradley, SCVO, Lucy McTernan, Civil Society member of the Scottish Open Gov Steering Group, Doreen Grove Head of Open Government, Scottish Government , Zara Todd, Project Scotland, Kelly McBride, Demsoc Scotland, and Niamh Webster, Scottish Government 

  1. Scotland was on screen at the event on citizens’ assembly event run by a Canadian democracy organisation, Mass LBP, with Jane Suiter of the Irish Citizens’ Assembly and Claudia Chwaliz of the Open Government Team at OECD. Claudia highlighted that Scotland’s upcoming Citizen Assembly, led by open government champion Cabinet Secretary Mr Russell. You can see the presentations here:

OECD have recently prioritised open government and deliberation which is enormously helpful for Scotland. Deliberation is also a big focus for OGP and new report that our Doreen Grove, Head of Open Government helped to co-author.

  1. ‘If you want to prioritise something, publish it’. This summarises the story from the energetic Councillor Gregorio Cesar from Austin, Texas about how they managed to decrease charges and incarceration rates from particularly the black community through increased police transparency. They published crime stats and required police officers to give a reason for all instances, which would then also be published. As a result, the number of police officers carrying out stop and searches decreased by 60%. The requirement for transparency helped, but it also helps expose areas where practice is not so good. ‘With enough granularity of data and information published, people can see for themselves what is still hidden’. See more on this work in this news article from 4 June Could increased transparency help in other areas of Scottish public services?

  1. Civic technology felt like a big part of the conference, popping up in all sorts of conversations and sessions. It’s probably because of the wide variety of tech that is used for a huge array of civic purposes. In Scotland we’re familiar with using tech to engage the public, or to make services easier to access. Digital tools and platforms are also used to track government progress in delivering their open gov commitments, but could be used similarly in all parts of government work. As a simple example, Slovakia use a project management tool that many of us may be familiar with; a ‘Trello board’ , which effectively and easily shares up-to-date information, although they admit may not be the most intuitive. Uruguay has an online monitoring system too, linked to off their main information portal . We’re looking to set up a monitoring platform like this too, are there any other examples we should know about?
  1. Local and sub-national governments are key players in the open government world, with acknowledgements made frequently that local governments of all shapes and sizes are most often the closest to meaningfully work with people and communities. There was a whole day dedicated to those of us on the ‘locals programme’, OGP’s efforts to spread open government to smaller nations, regions and big cities beyond the traditional nation-state founding members. There is real strength as group; Scotland has gained a lot from working with fellow local programme pioneers in Basque Country, Spain, Buenos Aires, Argentina and Austin, Texas, US. This sustained relationship helps encourage innovation and sharing common challenges. We ran a session together as a collaborative – we’ll share a fuller write up of this shortly, watch this space.

  1. We met lots of inspiring new people from near and far; including the former Information Commissioner of Canada, Suzanne Legault who started the OGP Academy off in blistering style – we will try to bring you her full speech in a blog soon – it is well worth reading. We also enjoyed meeting Panthea Lee who runs an organisation called Reboot, based in New York. They were involved in some of the great work that has happened on participatory budgeting in NYC, a place that Scotland looked to in developing its own incredible work on participatory budgeting, now country-wide and growing still. Talking to Panthea, we found it reassuring that she was acting locally but thinking globally. They do lots of work in the global south, and have an office in Nigeria, but are actively thinking about how translate learning at home.

Participatory public services was the theme for one of the session we presented in. We’ll share our presentation soon, but what struck us as useful for you now was the example from the Philippines. Roel Blanker from Mahintana talked about their work creating participatory public services, which brings together government and civil society to monitor infrastructure projects. Watch the video of presentation here: ) They used an Open Data Kit with an online updatable records database, allowing people to submit photos of ongoing projects to help ensure accountability. They enabled people to comment on local government legislation drafting. Lastly, they set up a citizen satisfaction index survey and share the findings in new ways with interactive data visualisation. To us, this seemed like innovative ways of bringing people in, offering a variety of opportunities – from simply taking a photo of a building project in your local area, to commenting on legislation. All the info is available online to make it transparent, but they’ve also been thoughtful about how they make this technical information accessible by making it interactive and using data-visualisation techniques. We also liked that Roel dedicated time in 5 minute whirlwind presentation to tell us about how they are sharing the learning, which we agree this is very important.

  1. Gender equality was a key theme throughout the conference. OGP supports this through basics like requiring every panel to be gender balanced (or your workshop session gets dropped off the agenda!). For the first time, there was a whole day dedicated to Feminist Open Government movement (#FOGO) Allison Merchant was appointed by OGP to lead this research within OGP and published their first report. The irony was not lost on us when our friends in the Canadian Government planned a Feminist Open Gov reception evening in a rather splendid gentlemen’s club, complete with penthouse views across the city. The Canadian government were very proud of their recent gender impact assessment which is now available for other countries to steal and re-use here:
    Colleagues from Mexico and Argentina made a strong pitch at the conference in support of their hoped for reforms of abortion laws, and the ‘green scarf’ campaign, worn around the wrist, as a movement for legislative reform. One of them shared their story of the struggle so far. There’s a famous statue of 3 women in her city in Mexico. One night she climbed up the statue and tied green scarves round their wrists, and was only just let go and not charged by the police when they caught her. /  Small but daring acts of activism like these are good stories to bring an international audience, that we might not have heard otherwise.

The OGP emphasis on gender equality, resonates well with the work going on In Scotland, such as the First Minister’s Advisory Council on Women and Girls. We’ve also got a commitment in our Open Government Action Plan to work with academics who focus on gender equality to assess our full action plan with a gender lens, seeing if there is a disproportionate advantage for either gender.

  1. How often do you happen to have lunch with someone from Afghanistan Government, a Minister from Mongolia, Nigerian Treasury official or an official from the Moldavian Government? Chances like this are the real beauty of these international summits. A chance to meet, talk to and connect with people like you, working on open government in their own government, with their own challenges but yet still finding some common challenges. Kahlil, who works in President of Afghanistan’s office, talked about how open government is led from the top political office and each Cabinet Minister is expected to fulfil their own open government commitments or stand down. It’s an example of countries where despite huge issues, they are trying to use this process as a way of securing their future. How might we better connect with those internationally beyond international meetings, where not everyone can be there? Would study visits be worth doing or inviting speakers here?

As you can imagine, there’s a lot we want to share. We’ll share more detail from our workshops that we ran, what we said and what we think Scotland can gain from this.

We hope you found this interesting and insightful, we’d love to discuss any of this further so do get in touch at if you have any questions or want to know more. Also feel free to leave a comment on the blog or chat on Twitter @ScotGovOpen or #opengovscot

Want to hear more stories?

A new podcast is collecting stories from reformers across the globe, listen now:

Conference hashtag to see more on Twitter: #OGPCanada #POGCanada

You can see more from the event on our Twitter @ScotGovOpen


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