Ann Allan: Participatory Budgeting


Drawing by Brian John Spencer @Live_Drawing


Open Government NI’s second event as part of Imagine! Belfast’s festival of politics and ideas took place in the Mac. Such a pity to see the condition of the building as it is now, covered in scaffolding and looking quite sad but it didn’t deter from our morning, hearing about and practising the concept of Participatory Budgeting (PB).

PB is a process of democratic decision making. This involves ordinary people  getting together and deciding how to allocate part of a public budget. PB has been used in parts of the U.K., particularly in Scotland and other parts of the world but hasn’t reached NI as yet. Jez Hall of UKPB network was our host.

To begin the session we were divided into pairs and into givers and takers. The givers then had to hand over something to the takers. I gave Paul Braithwaite my mobile phone. Felt the panic set in immediately. The givers left the room and on our return we had to ask the right questions to get the phone back from the taker. I failed. The question that was needed was “What will it take to get my phone back”? Lesson? We need to know the questions to ask in order to get what we want. I have tried to precis the main points from Jez’s talk but I would advise that you have a look at the website to get more information.

His main points were:

1.The poor are the best budgeters.

2.We need to get to the bottom of how our ( public ) money is spent.

3.We have a power structure with all the money at the top.

4.We have lost our respect for politicians. We feel disconnected from them.

5. Human beings know if they cooperate and volunteer they can create a good future.

6.To be a good citizen is to stop playing the negative game.

7.If we start working towards the same goals we can get there faster.

8. Real leadership means giving away power ( to citizens).

9.We need to know what questions to ask to get what we want.

10.Democracy is a bit like parenting.

11.There is a lack of clear and simple council budget information available to citizens of NI.

His final point was that PB is a powerful tool for building social capital and community cohesion. It empowers citizens to decide how local money is spent. There followed an enjoyable exercise where we were assigned imaginary areas of Belfast and each person at each table took on the role of a citizen. My area was Low Hill which was very close to the


demographics of Ballyhackamore. We then had to make a case for spending some of the council’s budget on projects that would improve the area and would be agreed by the citizens in that area. We did come to a consensus but I’m not sure how this would work in the more divided areas of the city.

Another successful event.


For more information about OpenGovNI go to:

Northern Ireland Open Government Network

Ann Allan. Imagine!Belfast and Opengovni

Imagine ! The Belfast festival of ideas and politics came to an end last weekend. From all accounts a very successful week. Opengovni had two events, both of which were well attended. Both were interesting and entertaining and both introduced new ways of looking at the problem of governments withholding both information and data.
The first venue was the magnificent City Hall and it was nice to be back. I hadn’t been there since acting as an observer at the count for the council elections back in 2014. But that’s another story.
After welcomes from our host Quintin Oliver, from Stratagem and from Alderman Jim Rogers,  we were given a background to OGN by Colm Burns. ( OGN Chair). Alderman Rogers recognised that, with RPA ( review of public administration), this is an opportune moment to embrace open government for the benefit of citizens. Good to hear this from a politician.
It was then time for the keynote speaker, Dr.Michael Harris,  founder of Guerilla Policy and who also runs the website Guerilla Wire.
The key points of his talk:
He spoke about the disenchantment of voters and how that could explain why controversial characters like Donald Trump are doing so well in the run up to the American elections.
He talked about how we need a new approach to developing policy. We should, he suggested, be developing a way for public service practitioners and service users to conduct research and policy analysis. These groups are at the frontline and as a result have practical expertise and experience.
Dr. Harris then explained the growth of Podemos ( We Can) now the second largest political party in Spain. Interesting to see the rapid growth of what started off as a small pressure group reacting to inequality and corruption within government. Too early  to say how the rise of austerity parties throughout Europe will pan out. ( my opinion)
Dr Harris ‘s talk was followed by lightning talks focusing on the theme of : Making Open Government  Open to Citizens.
Dean Blackwood,  Director, Faugan River Anglers was first.  Dean spoke about the difficulty of obtaining information from government departments, Why? What is being covered up?
Katherine Torney from The Detail emphasised that if Open Data is really open it allows for evidence based policy and decision making.
Glenn  Jordan, Director  of the Law Socity  spoke about corruption. ” The effects of corruption are personal so they are devastating. Corruption leaves children without mothers, families without healthcare, people without food, the elderly without security and businesses without capital.
Daniel Holder Deputy Director of CAJ outlined the excuses for the refusal to use bilingual road signs. Road safety being one! Perhaps not really the reason.
Finally Lorraine Boyd from NEET  ( In Need of  Education Employment  or Training). Lorraine outlined the problems facing troubled young people who need to access, maintain and progress to employment.

We then divided into workshops and discussed among other topics, open data, access to information, civic participation, public accountability, and anti corruption.

During feedback from the different groups and in a robust panel discussion with the audience it was clear that there is a lot needs to be done to further our aims but the audience was enthusiastic and we were all singing from the same hymn sheet.

Concluding remarks from our host included the invitation to some horizontal networking over lunch. Me? I stayed vertical.

Thanks to and

For further information re open government go to:

Ann Allan: OpengovNI

imageIt’s always hard to turn up at an event where you are the newbie and the others are chatting away with each other.  But this time I wasn’t the newbie, I was an ‘ old hand’ and the event was the first meeting of the new steering committee of the Open Government Network N.I.  Everyone there had been elected to serve over the next two years to progress the good work of the previous steering committee. Due to other commitments, some of the previous group had not stood for re-election, so here we were, the old faces meeting the new, enthusiastic in our aim of making our public representatives more accountable to their electorate.

I have been involved since its inception and have enjoyed meeting new people and attending the various events organised by the committee. It’s good to feel involved in something that can hopefully make a difference as to how transparent our government is and how much more transparent it could be. Even more so is the fact that not having been involved in anything but childminding for some time I feel that I am contributing something to society, no matter how small that contribution may be. I confess some of it goes ‘over my head’ but I’m learning,  and I now feel more confident in speaking out, so I would urge anyone with a few hours on their hands to get involved and join our network. image

Our first meeting was a “getting to know each other” session and being brought up to speed on what had been happening by Jonny Bell, our network coordinator. Jonny, who plays hockey for Ireland, will be taking some time out to train for the upcoming olympics. We wish Jonny all the best and hope he gets picked for the team. We are pleased to hear that David McBurney will cover in his absence.

In October 2015 there was a meeting with officials from the Department of Finance and Personnel. This was the second time to meet and members of the committee found the meeting to be very constructive. To read more about this and to see what else has been happening, you can visit our website  :

David outlined our commitments as a network for our new committee members and I have listed them here:

Open Data: Implement NI Open Data Strategy for all public sector agenciesAccess to information: Publish performance data externally; greater coordination & collaboration re Freeddom of Information; implement ‘Open by Default’ procedures.

Anti-Corruption: Fiscal transparency, citizens’ budget, open contracting pilot.

Technology & Inovation: New tools & opportunities for citizen engagement.

Public Accountability: Publish diary information in open data format; greater lobbying transparency; forum to monitor delivery of Open Government commitment.

Citizen Engagement: Adopt open policy making principles in NI; pilot projects re participatory budgeting; open contracting; open policy making etc; make NI Direct a more effective consultation hub; create a consultation tool kit; evaluate consultation impact.

We also have a very interesting programme of events over the coming months. On Thursday 11 February,  Brian Cleland of the University of Ulster, will deliver a seminar on Open Data and Transparency. Apply here if that floats your boat. If you can’t make it, I hope to ‘do a Basil ‘ and periscope the seminar:


This year we are pleased to have two events included in the  Imagine Belfast Festival. The first event is in the City Hall on 16 March is entitled  ‘Open Government for the Common Good.’ Further details can be found here:

Open Government for
the Common Good

On the 18 March a mock participatory budgeting exercise called ‘ How would you spend your Council’s Money? An excerise in participatory budgeting‘ will take place at The Mac.  I think there might be a few interesting suggestions for that one. Again further details here:

How would you spend Your Council’s Money?

We would love to see you at some or all of the above events, so come along and support us and help us to work towards a more open government in Northern Ireland.



Ann Allan: Open Government Meets The Environment.


Citizens are demanding that the state should be their servant and that information that governments hold should be open for everyone to see.”  

Rt. Hon Francis Maude

On Monday night, in my role as a member of the Open Government steering committee, I attended the launch of the first Environment week. It was held in the Long Hall at Stormont. Launched by Anna Lo MLA MBE, the main aim of Environment Week is to raise awareness  of environmental issues primarily among our public representatives, and provide opportunities for the environmental NGO (Non- Governmental Organisation) sector to engage with MLAs.

Arriving at Stormont there was a notable presence of outside broadcast vans. Wonder was there anything important happening? The long hall was full and I recognised a few faces; Chris Lyttle, Jim Wells, and the two Durkans, Mark and Mark H.  Anna Lo, who is Chairperson of  the Environment Committee, came over and introduced herself.  We had a chat and she expressed her interest in the concept of Open Government.  In keeping with environmental week there were plates of vegetarian sandwiches and lots of smelly cheeses.

Anna started by saying that
” In today’s busy world, events like this provide us all with an opportunity to appreciate what our local environment has to offer. It is vital for our health and well–being. We depend on it for food, energy, raw materials and water. We have a wealth of built heritage, habitats and wildlife which we need to look after. As Chair of the Environment Committee, I am delighted to launch the first Environment Week for Northern Ireland and look forward to seeing this event prosper in the years to come.”image

She then told us about her own personal project to project the swift. Swifts are coming under threat due to the recent trend in renovating our homes. Blocking up eaves and repairing holes and cracks means there are fewer nesting places. Food for thought.image

Minister Mark H Durkan congratulated NIEL and the Environment Committee for organising the week. He said

“This is a good example of how our eNGO sector can help us to deliver environmental outcomes. As budgets come under increasing pressure, their expertise and enthusiasm in securing match funding and harnessing volunteers will become ever more important.” 

He also explained that he had teamed up with Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful to back the Eco-schools hedgehog campaign and his hopes to protect the hedgehog. Apparently hedgehog houses are the way to go about it. He mentioned Ballycraigy Primary in Antrim and Elmgrove Primary in East Belfast for their excellent work in helping to save the hedgehog. Mark H also confirmed that he has banned the growth of all GM crops in Northern Ireland.image
Patrick Casement, Chairperson of Northern Ireland Environment Link concluded by commenting that

Environment week is a celebration of Northern Ireland’s environment and an opportunity to raise awareness of environmental issues primarily among our public representatives “

Belonging to an organisation like Open Government has opened up a new world for me. I feel as if I’m more in touch with what is going in NI and I’m much more involved. I was unaware of the plight of the swift and the hedgehog and would probably still be would had I not attended tonight’s launch.  It certainly makes a change from listening to bickering politicians. I have also to confess that some of what goes on is way above my head, especially when the buzz words and the civil service jargon are being bandied about.  I’m trying to get my fellow committee members to see that everyone needs to know our aims and aspirations and that will be a lot easier if it is written in language that everyone can understand, especially old dears like me.image

Tuesday lunchtime and the second day of Environment week. Time for Open Government to explain how it can assist in protecting the environment. This will be a learning curve for me as it is not something I have thought about.

Open Gov NI had been invited to host a lunch time seminar. After a nice lunch (I opted for the scampi and chips) Jonathan Bell our Project Coordinator welcomed everyone and explained what OGN was all about. What is open government you may ask? Simply it’s asking that governments make themselves more open and accountable to the citizens who elect them. Compared to England, and to a lesser extent Wales and Scotland,  the Open Government Partnership has had little impact for us in Northern Ireland. Our NI steering group is forging ahead with the process for developing the NI specific commitments for the UK action plan. Jonny encouraged those attending to join our network  and support the campaign.

A draft set of commitments is currently open for comment on the OGN Forum ( )The draft ideas will be shared with DFP and a set of Joint OGN-DFP commitments will be produced. The commitments will be further refined and revised at a joint OGN-DFP workshop towards the end of October, which will inform the development of a final set of draft commitments. Subject to Ministerial approval the commitments will be forwarded to the Cabinet Office for inclusion in the Draft UK Open Government Action Plan.

I had a go at Periscoping the event (relax Basil) and at this stage had 180 plus viewers some of whom stayed for the entire event. Sore arms afterwards but worth it.IMG_0276

Dr. Peter Doran QUB/Carnegie Trust was next.  See link below. To give you a flavour of what he said I’ve quoted a piece from his talk :

Nobody gets up in the morning and says to him/ herself: ‘That’s a fine day to accelerate climate change and put the world on course for concentrations that are unprecedented in human history.’

Nobody – at least I hope – gets up in the morning and celebrates the fact that we are living through the sixth great mass extinction of species and plant life on earth. Indeed, just last week the WWF reported that due to pollution, industrial fishing and climate change, we have killed off half of all marine life in the past four decades.

Welcome to the age of the ‘Anthropocene’. We humans – you and I – are now the decisive agents of change in the Earth’s planetary and atmospheric systems.”

Andrea Thornbury the Project Coordinator of the Detail Data Project gave a presentation in which she explained that there are seven types of data, two of which refer specifically to the environment. They are:

Weather : The many types of information used to understand and predict the weather and climate and

Environment : Information related to the natural environment such as,  presence and level of pollutants, the quality of rivers and the seas.

Through research the Northern Ireland Open Government Network identified Open Data as one of their key areas of focus for the next 18 months and the network has linked in with the Detail Data Project in the pursuit of this. While the UK leads on the open data barometer Northern Ireland is lagging behind. However an Open Data ecosystem is starting to develop on the Assembly Management System.

All in all an interesting session. I would however suggest that the talks could be shorter and give fewer statistics and details. In my opinion, and talking to others in the hall, I got the impression that very few grasp all the information at the time but they do grasp short punchy points. Perhaps handouts of the more detailed information would be helpful.

There were many questions after the session which is always a good sign.

Anyway,  time to go home and try writing it all up in a blog. The challenge in writing a blog is that most people only read the first few paragraphs, and very few stay to the end. So if you are still with me,  please click on the links below for more information. Thank you.


Paul Braithwaite

‏@Paul_BCT Sep 22
shocking fact: belfast-l’derry train takes 20mins longer now than in 1948! @DetailData story

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