Open policy making in the real world

In this series of blogs, Siobhan Farrell has been discussing the state of open policy in 2015. So far we have looked at what open policy making is and what its success criteria are. This time, we take a quick look at three examples of successful open policy.

The obvious place to start is with a little bit of trumpet blowing.One of our main projects at Public-i is NHS Citizen. Through NHS Citizen, people are given the opportunity to play a more active role in NHS England’s decision making. Citizens can raise ideas about the health service, discuss them with each other and then present them directly to the board of NHS England. NHS Citizen is now in its build phase. This followed a design process which was also carried out with open policy making in mind. With our partners, we held design workshops all over the country to canvass ideas from the public about what they wanted. These workshops were open to anyone and intended to be as inclusive and accessible as possible. We think we did quite a good job at hearing ideas and acting on what we heard. We’re looking forward to the next citizens’ assembly which is happening next week. You can find out more about that here.

In a different setting and context, Croatia provides an interesting case of central government opening up the policy making process. Developing a national action plan with the Open Government Partnership, Croatia has recently launched an e-consultation platform which is a place where people can share ideas about policy proposals. This is the most recent in a line of developments designed to bring people into the process. This started in 2001 with a programme of governmental cooperation with NGOs. Igor Vidačak, Director of Croatian Government Office for Cooperation with NGOs, suggests that these efforts are making a real difference. Open policy making is now the norm and citizens are expecting to be consulted. Empirical evidence seems to back that up too: in 2011 there were only 48 public consultations. That number was 544 in 2014. You can find out more about open policy making in Croatia on the open policy blog and at the open government partnership.

The Croatian Parliament building. Photo credit: apl1986

The Croatian Parliament building. Photo credit: apl1986

It’s easy to focus on national efforts to bring people into the policy making sphere. But local and hyperlocal policy benefits from open practices too. One of the better known tools for open policy making is participatory budgeting, where local populations can get involved in decision making about how and where local funds are spent. Although gaining traction in Europe and North America, participatory budgeting actually started in Brazil and this is where a lot of its success has been seen. The Brazilian city of Porto Alegre started participatory budgeting in 1989. It now sees up to 40,000 of its inhabitants being involved in decision making each year. Its success has been multifaceted. Formerly excluded groups (such as those on low incomes) have been effectively brought into the policy process. Decision making is now more transparent than ever, heightening democratic accountability. Moreover, the practice has been emulated in neighbouring areas. Most of all though, its success is seen in better policy. There have been improved outcomes for residents in terms of access to basic amenities, education and healthcare. You can find out more about Porto Alegre’s experience here.

Porto Alegre at sunset. Photo credit: Felipe Valduga

Porto Alegre at sunset. Photo credit: Felipe Valduga

Of course, these are but three of a long and growing list of great examples of successful open policy making. We’re really keen to continue this conversation and hear what you have to say. Do you know of any really good examples of open policy making? Or perhaps some learning points from a time things didn’t go so well? Let us know what you think by using the comments box below!

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