What NEED does this meet?
Central place to look for information other people have uncovered via FOI. Will be well indexed by search engine, so information becomes more public in general. For people who make FOI requests, provides a convenient place to track the progress of the request, and to put responses so you can give people links to them.
What is the APPROACH?
Anyone can set up a Freedom of Information request. Website provides simple URLs for all requests and responses, and searching of them by free text or by department. When making a request, advice is given on how to write it, and the site sends it to the department/quango/authority. When you get a response, can upload it to the site – after the statutory 28 working days we would send an email to ask if a response was received. If responses are late or unsatisfactory, site offers guidance on taking to the Information Commissioner.
What are the BENEFITS to people?
A repository of useful government information, all of which somebody felt was important enough to actively ask for. Opens up government to people, making it more transparent. As well as letting people criticise government, it would also show the good things that government is doing.
What is the COMPETITION?
Friends of the Earth have a system for sending requests, but do not provide an archive of them, which is vital. Our site can also be easier to use, and they would probably collaborate with the project. The book “Your Right to Know” describes in detail how to make requests, but the site would complement that rather than compete with it. There’s also a similar FOI archive service to this in America which we could learn from.
What BUDGETS & LOGISTICS are required?
The complex part is the uploading of responses to requests, which could be in numerous electronic document formats or on paper. We’d need lots of advice to people on how to OCR documents, or to give summaries if only image versions can be uploaded. Maybe let other people contribute OCR of images. Code to convert Word documents, PDFs etc. to text. Other than that it is a straightforward mySociety site. Say two people working for three months to make a reasonable version.
An excellent idea. Anything that increases our access to government is a good thing. I think many of us have no idea where to start when seeking answers and this would provide a valuable resource. I agree to with Shane’s suggestion for categorisation to make it easier to access local, national and international information. Perhaps too, as the world grows smaller and the US influence more vast, there would be someway of tying in with the US version of this (ACLU?). Namaste, Tina
I think this is a fantastic idea – and much needed.
We put in FOI requests to all Oxford Colleges about their investments last year – and then managed to loose half of the responses when someone engaged in over-zealous office cleaning! An archive like this could have saved us a lot of trouble! (Some of the results however we did get logged at http://www.srioxford.org.uk under Colleges and University before loosing the rest if anyone is interested….)
What are the issues though with republishing information recieved from a FOI request? Is permission to republic implicit – or does it have to be explicitly given?
Sounds great. Would be good to have some sort of categorisation and/or rating system to help the information with universal interest rise above the personal/local interest requests.
This is cool – trying to open up hidden information to the public, as was intended by FOI, would be great.
Really, really, really good!!
I’m sure you could get the backing of journaists for this as well to fund it.
The NUJ or even the BBC might be good places to start.
Also – why not add a DIGG.com style rating system to information as well?
This way interesting and informative documents would rise to teh surface/homepage for all to see.
Yes – great idea, challenging though (as you know already) – my FoI response back from Westminster Council re parking queries was about 400 pages long, and came in 4 separate bursts. And it still did not really tell me what I wanted to know – so the system is not working perfectly at present – anything that can be done to improve has to be a good idea.
This is a great idea.
Not only would it benefit the general public, but it would also benefit all the public organisations that are required to provide information under the Freedom of Information Act.
For example, supposing 10 people all asked Westminster Council for information on parking queries. Rather than having to deal with th request ten times they could deal with it once and refer the other people to the FOI Archive – as they’re not requird to deal with requests where the information is already in the public domain – such as on a website.
Yes, good idea. Maybe a Wiki?
I think this is an excellent idea and would love to see this site. it gets my vote!
i just posted this to the more recent suggestion in this vein after conversation with tom in pub last night
>>>>>which has the more added value in this proposal for the user – the publishing of requests or the publishing of replies ?
i suspect that officials in government depts would welcome something that prevents people asking for the same information repeatedly. so that might work for them
but they woudl find the standardised (as opposed to on request) publishing of the responses to citizens more uncomfortable. however it is more or less standard practice to publish responses to journalists. journalists don’t always like this as it dilutes their ’scoops’
central govt Depts woudl look to DCA for guidance. the rest of the public sector would probably do their own thing. the information commissioner’s view would be important too
a technical point – almost all public records prior to the past couple of years are on paper (for good reasons). so you would need mighty storage to cope with lots of .tiff files that public sector scanners tend to produce if peoepl can be persuaded to scan things in. one route i have used before is to inists on fax – which mysociety is well versed in – so requesting a fax response from the public sector and having a big fax receive bucket is an easy work around
A very good idea. Probably the best suggested. I thought there was already one of these (I thought your right to know did it). I’m happy to help if there is one. There are some legal issues with it, but I’m sure you knew that.
Great idea. For many though – especially those ‘in power’ or who can call the shots – this kind of thinking requires a bit of a change in their philosophy. Why should the be transparent? That’s the question many are asking. The benefits, I think, need to be further extended to show the powers that be that this is the way to go.
Count me in. So when will everything materialize? I can’t wait to see the results of this excellent idea.
Just to say, this site is now live and you can find it at http://www.whatdotheyknow.com
I love this idea I think its great, one more vote coming your way