Collaborative Government in Scotland: Event Review


On the 30th July senior civil servants, academics and members of civil society came together at the Playfair Library Hall at Edinburgh University to attend the Collaborative Government in Scotland Workshop, hosted by the Democratic Society, the Scottish Government and the University of Edinburgh.

The aim of the afternoon was for attendees to start a conversation about how government should collaborate with citizens and civil society to improve policy, services and other areas of the work of government. We wanted to analyse the conversation in order to find a set of shared intentions for effective collaboration in the work of government in Scotland.

IMG_0281Attendees were joined by a range of experts each hosting a table on a selected theme. The experts and themes included:

Robert Bjarnason, Citizens Foundation: Technology and Democracy

Catherine Howe, Public-i: Collaborating for Public Services/NHS Citizen

Oliver Escobar, University of Edinburgh: Beyond consultation: Innovations in citizen participation

Christian Storstein, Scottish Government: Digital Engagement and Experimentation

Angela Morgan, Includem: How can we connect those who are least heard in civil society…?

Tim Hughes, Involve: Openness and transparency in policy making

Juliet Swann & Willie Sullivan, ERS Scotland: Democratic reform and innovation

Each attendee selected four of the above themes and took part in four 20 minute round table discussions which aimed to highlight examples of collaborative government and encourage conversations around the steps the Scottish Government should take in relation to citizen engagement in the work of government. Facilitators from Demsoc, Scotgov and Edinburgh University observed the conversations in order to try and draw out the recurring themes that will help shape shared intentions for collaborative government. Facilitators and table hosts then took part in an open fish bowl discussion to try and find a consensus on the shared intentions and future steps. Because the conversation was so rich and varied it was difficult to pin down a definite range of intentions within the space of one afternoon. Thankfully, the scribes who were in attendance did a marvellous job of capturing the conversations and their data helped create a comprehensive read you can read here.

In summary, we have identified what we think are the main themes that came out of the workshop.

We think that the general feeling in the room was that successful collaborative government required:

1. Government that goes where people are and connects conversations (many of which are already happening), rather than creating a new government website or whole new system and expecting people to come to them.

2. A continual conversation, that builds trust and a shared understanding over time, rather than relying on traditional consultations

3. Trusted intermediaries who could create environments where people can collaborate in what feels like a safe space for all participants.

4. A shift from hierarchical mindsets to creating, sustaining and using networks around policy issues.

5. Bringing people in as early as possible to the discussion; so they could help to frame the question and design policies from the beginning – this was described by one participant as shifting from “an invitation to complain to an invitation to create”

In terms of next steps, there seemed to be a general agreement that this should be the beginning of the conversation rather than the end of it. The shared intentions in the room on next steps seemed to be that:

1. The conversation will carry on in the autumn, in a variety of forms

2. We should ensure that other voices are included, particularly local government, the health sector, and citizens (all of whom were underrepresented)

3. In the next stage of thinking, we should consider how to identify and frame small low-risk experiments in practical collaborative government

4. We should think about how and where safe spaces with trusted governance might be created

5. We should think about how to bring together the different tools and skills that will enable government to collaborate across its broad areas of work and encourage deeper levels of engagement from citizens

To cite Ken Thomson, Director General of Strategy & External Affairs at the Scottish Government, the workshop is not the end of the conversations it has started. We look forward to future wider discussions about collaborative government in Scotland and we would like to thank all attendees for their participation in what was a positive and enlightening afternoon.

Please let us know your thoughts on Collaborative Government in Scotland and the initial shared intentions by contacting us using the details listed below.

Click here to read Dr Andy Williamson‘s reflections on the Collaborative Government in Scotland Workshop

If you would like to know more about Demsoc’s work in Scotland please email or follow @DemsocScotland on twitter.