Tuesday, January 18, 2005

I posted this last week, but have republished due to interest:

Comment: Proactive releases of information and FOI request publishing

The Publication scheme element of the Freedom of Information Act has garned little publicity over the last few weeks but they have an important role in making sure information is placed visibly in the public domain. It is fair to say that that many organisations have made little effort in setting up their schemes, whilst there are some pockets of good practice out there for example the Metropolitan police and the Welsh Assembly. The Publication schemes for Central Government have now been in place for over 2 years and many have changed little in that time. In February 2004 the Camapaign for FOI published a documents reviewing the central government schemes and highlighting best practice. Now is time for all schemes to be renewed and improved.

Lord Falconer did make some reference to this in his speech back in November:
"All departments have publication schemes in place already. What we need to do now is develop this. My department is encouraging others within government to review their publication schemes continually, so that all meet a 'gold standard', giving the public easy access to information without the need to make a request." The DCA have now produced a policy paper on this. The paper suggests standards in schemes related to:

-A standard approach to the release of contractual information
-Facts and analysis behind policy decisions
-Procurement, grants, loans and guarantees
-Publishing all information of general interest released in response to individual FOI requests
(In relation to the latter it is now interesting to see that the DCA have added a disclosure log on their publication scheme at http://www.dca.gov.uk/rights/dca/disclosure.htm

I expect the Information Commissioner to turn his attention to improvments in the consistency of publication schemes and the new classes and sub classes that should be added in light of FOI by the end of the year.

Adding details of requests is an important way for public authorties to quickly deal with future enquiries and allow fast access to information that has already been requested. In the US this has long been established through the electronic reading room part of the FOIA (see example) and in Ireland the Department of Communications, Marine & Natural Resources publish a requests log- interestingly here all requstors are publically named

If you are researching public sector information, make sure you always check the publication scheme - there can be useful information in the public domain - Heather Brooke is often good at doing this (see her entry on Health and Safety about Railway Signals passed and the PPP Contracts for the Tube)

It is also worth using the Information Asset Register maintained by HMSO: "The IAR lists information resources held by the UK Government, concentrating on unpublished resources. In doing so it enables users to identify, from one single source, the information held in a wide variety of government departments, agencies and other organisations." It can be in particlualr useful for finding out details of databases maintained by Departments.

There is quite a problem in the co-ordiantion of FOI publication schemes - there is no central access point for them (even at sector level) so you will always have the visit the website of an individual authority. This makes the job a lot longer when the schemes are often buried and are hard to find even using Google and site searches. The onlt co-ordinated document I know of is the list on the Information Commissioner's website (without weblinks). The NHS have made an attempt to list all the Schemes for GP surgeries on the NHS FOI site, but the list is very hard to use listing them merely by the start of the address not Geographical area

I woud also urge anyone who has made succesful FOI requests to publish the full documents from their requests (subject to Copyright law) for the public to see. The Guardian are doing this - for example see the meetings with the DCA/Sky documents

If anyone has any comments about publication schemes post them here


Eagle said...

just checked your blog. I invite you to visit my site too.

income opportunity

TS said...

Nice Blog!!!   I thought I'd tell you about a site that will let give you places where
you can make extra cash! I made over $800 last month. Not bad for not doing much. Just put in your
zip code and up will pop up a list of places that are available. I live in a small area and found quite