Opening remarks from Elizabeth Denham CBE, Chair of the ICIC Governance Working Group and UK Information Commissioner, at the ICIC closed session

Opening remarks from Elizabeth Denham CBE, Chair of the ICIC Governance Working Group and UK Information Commissioner, at the ICIC closed session on Wednesday 23 June 2021.

“Hello, and welcome to the 2021 ICIC closed session.

It is my privilege as chair of the Governance Working Group to welcome you today, to what promises to be an important and engaging two days.

This is a truly global meeting. We have members joining over breakfast, and others joining in the evening. We have members representing Commissioner’s offices big and small. We have members with decades of experience, and others who are newer to their posts.

All of you are very welcome, and all of your expertise is valued.

This is a time when we need the combined wisdom of all of our members.

The pandemic has made the work of our community harder, and yet never more important.

  • The role of transparency as fundamental to trust in the relationship between state and society has never been clearer.
  • The risk that access to information laws are seen as inconvenient or incompatible with times of crisis has never been clearer
  • And the crucial role of an independent body to oversee those laws has never been clearer.

We can be proud, as a community, of the pragmatic and collaborative approach we have taken over the past eighteen months. The pandemic has kept us apart, but it has brought us together too.

I know from talking to many of you that it hasn’t always been easy – with the pandemic bringing challenges to the working lives of our own teams – but from where I am sitting, I see a community that has responded calmly, and with great integrity.

Our response continues today.

We have already held the first of our open session webinars, organised by our Brazilian hosts, and today we hold our first digital closed session.

This session marks a turning point in the ICIC’s development.

When I think back to our meeting in Manchester in 2017, the ICIC was very different. I’m sure my Scottish colleagues, who co-hosted the event, will remember it well. At that stage, the ICIC didn’t even have a mailing list to contact all the conference participants. We often had little formal interaction outside of our annual meeting. And our conversations were so often Europe-focused.

Today’s ICIC is very different. Today we are a permanent network. We work together year round, with a website and a newsletter to support us.

We speak with one voice on the value of access to information laws – I’m thinking back to our statement with the International Council of Archives last year. And we are truly global.

Many of you on this call have worked hard across the past three years to get to where we are today.

There are too many names to mention everyone, but I think of the work of Darren in Scotland, Mahendra in Nepal, and all of those on the Governance Working Group. And I think of our conference hosts as well – Pansi in South Africa, Marco in Brazil. Thank you, all of you.

I’ve taken enormous personal pride in leading the growth of our network.

In today’s session, we will complete the building of the foundations of the ICIC.

Our agenda today covers the ICIC handbook and the charter. Let us continue the progress we have made, and agree these aspects that confirm our group as a permanent, membership organisation.

And then let us get on with the real hard work.

Because the foundations we have built are only the start. They are a means to an end, not an end in itself.

We wanted a permanent, year-round ICIC so that, as a group, we could better rise to the transparency challenges of the day. Our vision of an ICIC that can support members and speak with one voice was prompted by the challenges we face.

As UNESCO has set out, access to information is a crucial part of the human rights framework that allows democracy to succeed. The rights to free speech and information are both fundamental in themselves, and facilitate other rights such as the rights to education and healthcare.

The big challenge for the ICIC, then, is not the work we do within our network, but the work we do beyond our network.

  • How are we inspiring access to information around the world?
  • How are we making the link between access to information rights and democracy, anti-corruption and transparency?
  • How are making sure our work has a real impact on people, and their ability to access information about decisions that affect their lives?

This week we will finalise the foundations that equip the ICIC to rise to these challenges.

We will collaborate and share our expertise and wisdom.

But I will be asking you to keep coming back to the same question every step along the way:
how will we have an impact beyond our network?

And so to our agenda…”

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