Green shoots of open government

One of the current government’s most famous commitments was Clare Curran’s statement that it would be the “most open, most transparent” administration ever. I think this is technically true, in the sense that it hasn’t unwound any previous open-government policies, problems like abuse of the Official Information Act are probably no worse than previously, and the government has added a couple of substantive pro-openness initiatives, such as publishing ministerial diaries.

I’m not sure the claim is yet substantively true, however, because we haven’t seen the big shift towards openness and transparency that I think the above claim implies. But there are a few further promising signs emerging.

Reforms to the justice system announced earlier this year by Andrew Little, for instance, promised that future initiatives would be codesigned with Maori, a significant step – if made reality – compared with the traditional approach of telling Maori what kind of services would be delivered for their benefit.

There has also been, finally, increased funding for Whanau Ora, which again is a codesign process that redesigns services around family needs, and which – in my view – can dramatically enhance the accountability of public services to citizens. The employment of more ‘navigators’ to help homeless people navigate the welter of services available to them is another such step.

At a different level, the Department of Internal Affairs recently issued a tender for research on how local councils could more closely connect with their communities, including case studies on citizens’ assemblies and participatory budgeting – two of the most exciting innovations in democratic practice.

None of this is transformative, of course: real transformation would involve the actual uptake, on a broad level, of things like participatory budgeting, or major reform of the Official Information Act, or some other genuinely world-leading move. Nonetheless these moves could be seen as the green shoots of an eventual flourishing of open government. Let’s hope!

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