In an idle moment I have had a quick look at the all new Government Transparency website. There’s much to admire here in terms of the intention but there are some interesting features to this revolution.
The thought that barged to the front of my mind was, ‘what is all this transparency for?’ I think, from reading lots of policy stuff, that there is a thought that greater transparency achieves two things. It compels the powerful to be honest. It empowers us as citizens. I wouldn’t quibble with either of these but … if these are the aims there’s still a lot to do which, to be fair, the website makes clear.
The biggest missing element for me so far is the ‘so what?’ question. What I can do as a citizen if the Cabinet Office misses its objective – 2.5 Use transparency and behavioural insights to achieve government policy objectives.
To whom or what should I complain? It’s not obvious from the website yet surely if you are going to give folks all this information to do something with, shouldn’t you give them a mechanism to do that something?
I’ve been involved in lots of business planning in the public and private sectors. I’m not sure that describing the departmental plans as ‘business plans’ is quite accurate. Information about money is to come but some of the tasks – I think we’re banned from using the word ‘target’ now – being worked on seem a little ‘undefined’ in any meaningful way.
And, of course, there’s some data yet to come that will be of very great interest to us seasoned watchers of all things Whitehall. I’m talking, of course, about the activities of the special policy advisers. Only two departments have returned any information about external meetings in which SPADs were involved in May to July. Tracing the sources of leaks and briefings is going to get a lot easier and more entertaining if details of SPAD meetings are published as seems to be the intention.
But perhaps transparency in this area will be somehow qualified so we will only see through the glass darkly …