Well done to the UCL Constitution Unit who have received a ESRC grant and DCA grant worth (£146k from the ESRC and £40k from the DCA) for an evaluative study of the FOIA. The research is timly and should offer important new insight into the impact of the Act.
Summary of the reseatrch proposal:
The UK Freedom of Information Act 2000 is intended to make government more transparent, more participatory, more effective and more responsive to its citizens. Has it worked? Who uses the Act, and what do they want to know?
What is the effect on them of their new found knowledge? Has it improved their trust in government? Has it made government more effective and responsive, or have there been adverse side effects on the working of Whitehall?
This will be the first systematic study of the objectives, benefits and consequences of FOI, anywhere in the world. The study will help to clarify the purposes of FOI, and to evaluate the impact of the legislation through empirical testing of its effects. We will accomplish this mainly by carrying out a survey of people who have made FOI requests, and a survey of senior managers and officials in six central government departments. To cross check their views we will also hold focus group discussions with the main stakeholders of those departments, and analyse departments’ proactive publication schemes and FOI request disclosure logs. To get a better feel for the effects of FOI on the wider public who do not make FOI requests, we will analyse newspaper coverage of the FOI Act and FOI disclosures, to see whether the press reporting is likely to increase public understanding, trust or mistrust in government, etc.
The findings from this study will help to clarify the benefits and disbenefits of FOI, especially as they relate to government transparency and accountability, public understanding, public participation in the political process and the quality of government decision-making.
UCL have also just published The FOI Live 2006 Practitioner Survey Report: "Freedom of Information in the first 16 months: The FOI practitioner’s perspective" (Delegate Survey Report from Fourth Annual Information Conference for the Public Sector:
FOI Live 2006 15 August 2006
also see: presentations fron FOI live
How do we judge the success of FOI?
Robert Hazell and Sarah Holsen, The ConstitutionUnit, University College London