Ministers have published a new action plan which commits to publishing much more public sector data as it moves to the doctrine of ‘open government’.

Scotland’s Open Government Action Plan 2021-25, has been drawn up with Scotland’s Open Government Network – a coalition of citizens and civil society organisations.

It aims to embed openness, transparency and citizen participation at the heart of a new National Action Plan to strengthen cooperation between government and wider society.

It will focus on involving people in decisions on making data open and accessible across key areas of government and understanding how public finances work.

It will also allow people to participate in decision making on tackling the climate emergency and improving health and social care.

A key first step in this Action Plan is the publication of the Institutionalising Participatory and Deliberative Democracy (IPDD) Working Group report.

It was set up to respond to the need for new infrastructure and processes to make sure people can routinely be involved in government decisions and to set up new Citizens’ Assemblies.

The Working Group recommendations include identifying how participatory processes have impact, independence and accountability; and providing guidance on how to design and run Citizens’ Assemblies.

Minister for Parliamentary Business and Co-Chair of the Open Government Steering Group, George Adam said:

“This Action Plan sets out our most ambitious commitments yet to create an open, transparent and accountable government, strengthening public trust in our institutions, producing better public services and a better quality of life for everyone.

“I am confident the commitments in the plan will continue to drive improvement to ensure decision-making is open and accessible to the people of Scotland and that we enable meaningful public scrutiny.

“Tackling the climate emergency and improving health and social care are huge challenges faced by government and I believe that working in partnership with wider society and the people of Scotland will help improve these vital programmes of work.

“I also welcome the publication of the IPDD Working Group report, which will help us deliver on this Action Plan and other commitments we have made to putting people at heart of everything we do. We will now carefully consider its recommendations before publishing our response in due course.”

Civil society Co-Chair of the Open Government Steering Group, and member of OGP International Steering Committee, Lucy McTernan said:

“Accountability and trust in our government has never been more important, as we see it undermined around the world. I am delighted the Scottish Government and COSLA officials, civil society partners and people across Scotland have contributed to the development of this plan.

“Retaining this spirit of collaboration and partnership working throughout the delivery of the plan will be crucial to its success and we look forward to developing these relationships over the next four years.”

Willie Sullivan, Senior Director of Electoral Reform Society Scotland, said:

“Scotland is already pioneering important ways to give people more of a say in the decisions that affect them, such as through citizens’ assemblies.

“We are part of a small group of countries leading the way in exploring how to move beyond the creaking democratic institutions of the 20th century and how to break through into a new era of revitalised and invigorated democracy. 

“This report sets out the plan to lay strong foundations for the future of Scotland’s democracy; for the old to give birth to and nurture the new.”

Within the 47-page document, the strategy remarks that, ‘Publishing and internal sharing
of open data enables efficiency gains, cost savings and service improvement’.

It states: ‘We want to make more of our data available openly and make public sector data easy to find. People, businesses and developers can use open data to create products for decision making at a variety of levels.’

In a follow-up list of actions the document pledges to open up data relevant to other Open Government themes, such as key climate change datasets used by government for modelling and reporting, data on public transport and public sector expenditure.

It commits to running a CivTech challenge to evaluate if technology can make public sector data easy to find, assess outcomes and set out the way forward; set up the Data Transformation Framework (DTF) stating what “good data” looks like and the process by which organisations can improve: this focuses on opportunity for organisations to improve data maturity, data literacy and adoption of standards, through collaboration and engagement with local government and other public sector bodies, to be useful for civil society.

It also pledges to review the front end of the official statistics open data publishing platform,; increase the amount of Scottish public sector open data being published, through collaborations such as the Data Standards and Open Data Community of Practice and develop a public register of AI algorithms.

More can be found on the action plan here.