Ministerial meetings: the latest guidance on how departments should publish vital transparency data

An image of the spreadsheet template for UK government departments on publishing data about ministerial meetings
Meet sheet: the template for publishing ministerial meetings data
  • The Covid guidance says ‘Remote formal meetings using conferencing technology are assumed to have taken the place of in-person meetings’. Unless they are taking the place of a meeting, departments would not normally be required to record audio calls, in line with previous guidance (leaving ‘unsolicited or informal’ calls outside scope). The main guidance says that only meetings with media proprietors, editors and senior executives should be declared regardless of whether they took place in an ‘official, political or social’ capacity. This leaves some grey areas when it comes to lobbyists and other figures who are not related to the media. And it prompts questions as to exactly what communications with ministers we think should be declared in the WhatsApp age, and with the migration of meetings online during the pandemic blurring some distinctions between what counts as a meeting and what doesn’t — does the medium matter if the interaction could influence government policy?
  • The publication guidance and spreadsheet template are a useful attempt to standardize how departments publish this data, and to give practical advice on implementing high-level policy. But the published data can still sometimes be more difficult to digest than it should be. Some further tweaks to the guidance — for example, in how departments record names of ministers and officials (maybe a dropdown list to avoid typos and errors) or how meetings with multiple attendees are logged (say, a row per entity with a new column allowing for a consistent meeting description, allowing the different organisations at that meeting to be linked) — could be helpful.
  • There’s nothing in the documents released that couldn’t be published as a matter of course. The publication of high level guidance for publishing ‘transparency data’ on GOV.UK was a step forward in helping civil servants to publish and those of us on the outside to scrutinize (even if it can’t always be enforced). Why not publish this more detailed guidance too?

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