Open Government: In what practical ways can citizens increase their engagement?

How to make Open Government practical or realistic possibility? As Matilda has pointed out there’s no pro forma method for going forward. In some countries it’s felt that it’s better if citizen start things, because few trust the government, and in other places, vice versa.

In research into priorities amongst #OpenGovNI network members participation comes out as the top priority followed closely by knowledge, and vision and openness and data.

In practical terms though, the question ahead of the network will be: where do you start first to get the ball rolling in part of Northern Ireland that’s suffers from, in Heaney’s memorable phrase, ‘minds as open as a trap’?

We are not the only ones with that problem. I recently visited a council plenary in England, of a local authority that for the pure purposes of this blog post shall remain nameless.

There were just three of us the public chamber myself, another blogger and a woman whom I took to be a journalist from the local paper. The meeting itself lasted no longer than 45 minutes from opening prayers to closing remarks from the chair.

In that time, although some specific questions were asked, there was very little in the way of disclosure of the detail asked for even questions from members of the large ruling party. Very little about the way the public plenary was conducted seemed to grasp the obvious and basic opportunity to make themselves accountable for council business, for good or ill.

I suspect this is a typical occurrence up and down the country. Open data and transparency is one matter. But if transparency can be legislated into the system it is of limited use if everyone has stopped actually taking notice.

If participation is a key ingredient, what can citizens do to increase the opportunities for greater (possibly more robust) engagement with our democratic institutions (without getting captured by them?)


Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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