Managing the end-to-end process of Freedom of Information requests can be a challenge for public authorities. For that reason, there are some things you should be making sure your FOI service is doing to make that process as smooth as possible for you, and for citizens.
To help maximise the chances that FOI requests will be well-formed by the time they reach you, always offer citizens a simple form to complete, and definitely don’t ask them to send an email.
Try to avoid using generic form builders, and instead opt for one that’s been specifically designed around making FOI requests straightforward to submit, and which provides citizens with contextual help at each stage. Not only does this save you time by helping you to avoid poorly-grounded requests and diverting Subject Access Requests, it also builds trust in your willingness to be receptive to citizens’ FOI requests and make it easy for them to exercise their rights.
Responding to FOI requests can be time-consuming, especially when citizens are requesting the same information. You can actively minimise the risk of receiving duplicate requests by using a suggestion system that leverages already published information by redirecting citizens to existing material before they make a request.
This could be a custom link curated by you, or a copy of a response you’ve already provided within your disclosure log. Either way, it saves you time, and means that the requester might be able to get the answer they’re looking for immediately, instead of waiting for up to 20 days.
Of course, to be able to automatically divert citizens to potentially relevant responses already published within the disclosure log of your case management system, your FOI service needs to be integrated with it. Getting your systems to speak to each other fluently, from frontend to backend, will allow you to offer a much more intelligent service to citizens.
End-to-end integration will also save you from having to do any manual data entry, because requests will go straight through to your case management system, and a case number will be allocated to the citizen immediately.
If your FOI service isn’t helping you to gain an overview of what citizens are requesting the most, which suggestions are most popular and which are helping to reduce the number of new requests, then you’re always going to be on the back foot when it comes to responding to FOI requests.
A service that provides you with analytics will help you to better understand how you can reduce request volume or divert duplicate requests by populating your website with the relevant, in-demand information.
We’ve already talked about why it’s a good idea to ensure your FOI service uses previously published responses to FOI requests or curated links to help reduce duplicates, but there’s another reason why this is a powerful tool for you to have; it increases the value of your responses.
When your Information Officers have gathered all the information required in response to a FOI request that may well be asked again by someone else, it seems a shame to let that response go to waste. If your FOI service can intelligently resurface relevant past responses within your disclosure log for citizens, then each response starts to work harder. Plus, if you have that end-to-end integration sorted, it means no more copying and pasting responses, because it will all happen automatically – a good thing for you and for the citizen.
Anyone can make a Freedom of Information request, so it’s crucial that your FOI service meets the WCAG AA Government standard and is easy to use for everyone, no matter what adjustments they may need you to make.
From being able to enlarge the font size or change the contrast to being screen reader-friendly, it’s essential that whoever wants to make a FOI request to you, can do so without a hitch.
Our user-centred, fully-integrated FOI Works service will help you to deliver all of the above FOI service essentials, tailored to your organisations’ needs.
If you want to learn more about FOI Works, click here.
Image: Bernard Hermant on Unsplash