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Ireland to implement its National Action Plan for Open Government

Author: Adrian Offerman

Last summer, Ireland published the draft version of its OPG National Action Plan. The plan describes a variety of actions that the government will take over the next two years towards a number of Open Government objectives. As a member of the international Open Government Partnership (OPG), the country has committed itself to the OPG core principles of accountability, technology and innovation, citizen participation, and transparency.

With the plan in place, it now needs to be implemented. In December 2014, a first meeting took place on the setting up of a Implementation and Review Group (IRG). This will be composed of representatives of civil society and government departments, and will monitor and oversee the progress of the action plan. Primary responsibility for implementation of each of the actions rests with the body to which lead responsibility is assigned. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (D/PER) will be responsible for collecting information and reporting on progress.

Joint Working Group

The National Action Plan was developed at the Joint Working Group, formed by civil society volunteers and government representatives. Sarita Ranchod, working with the OGP Civil Society Coordination Team, reports how the cost of civil engagement was a concern, with the effects of Ireland's economic meltdown still tangible. Economic constraints meant thinking of different ways of engaging with citizens outside the capital city, Evelyn O'Connor of D/PER's Government Reform Unit (GRU) told Ranchod. Using online forms of consultations was new for government, as was using social media for consultations and increasing awareness of OGP through civil society organisations that have a presence outside Dublin.

According to Ranchod, the online engagement process ran simultaneous to the face-to-face engagements and beyond, and included those not able to participate in the Dublin consultations, increasing the diversity of views. This experience has the potential for unlocking new ways in which public bodies engage with citizens. A commitment to review current approaches is included in the action plan.

O'Connor told Ranchod that the joint working group with civil society on open governance is seen by government as something that worked well. Another innovation for government was that civil society was at the table from the start.

Continuity

O'Connor notes that getting other public bodies on board was initially a challenge. This was overcome when government bodies realised the OGP agenda was part of their public mandate, and in line with the policies of the incumbent government. We took the civil society report to the other public bodies, analysed the recommendations, and kept them informed of the process throughout — how it was going, what civil society was thinking, and what was feasible and in line with government policy.

Denis Parfenov of Open Knowledge Ireland/Active Citizen (OK Ireland/AC) emphasises the importance of civil society following up and monitoring implementation to make sure government delivers on its promises, Ranchod reports. Nuala Haughey who led the formal Irish Civil Society consultation process adds that the immediate challenges are to ensure the commitments in the action plan are delivered, and that the plan lives on beyond the life of the current administration. With a general election on the horizon, we need to ensure that OGP is embedded sufficiently so that it will endure.