The open standards consultation, a Cabinet Office-led exercise to define open standards for public sector IT, has been extended by one month following an alleged conflict of interest by one of its 'independent facilitators', who was also found to be advising Microsoft at the same time. It has also promised to re-run the event, teleconferencing it to enable wider participation.
It follows allegations that a meeting on 4 April of the group had been packed with vendor interests, who had voted heavily in favour of scrapping the government's policy on open standards. Open source and open standards campaigners had also complained they had not been invited to the roundtable event.
Independent consultant Dr Andrew Hopkirk was a pro-bono moderator at the Cabinet Office's 'Open Standards: Open Opportunities' consultation roundtable event on 4 April 2012. At the same time, however, he was also employed by Microsoft to advise directly on the open standards consultation.
Hopkirk dismissed claims of bias, pointing out that the meeting had been open to anyone who wanted to attend, and had been advertised on the consultation website and via social media.
However, in a blog post, deputy government CIO Liam Maxwell, wrote: "When this came to our attention we asked Dr Hopkirk for an explanation and he told us he has ‘not been paid to specifically write their response to the Open Standards consultation, but he is engaged to help them tease out the issues'.
"This could be seen as a clear conflict of interest and should have been declared by the relevant parties at that meeting. For this reason, any outcomes from the original roundtable discussion will be discounted in the consultation responses, and we will rerun that session and give time for people to prepare for it. We will also run a teleconference, as well as a meeting to ensure that everybody has a chance to participate."
In an earlier blog post, the Government Digital Service had summed up the overall mood of the event as follows: "The majority of the attendees considered that open standards, as defined in the policy, would close down the government's ability to benefit from an alternative standards development model and limit our choice – not least because they considered that the definition excludes standards that are made available on Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) terms."
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