The Ministry of Justice recently released the latest statistics on freedom of information implementation in central government for the first quarter of 2010. We can use this data to roughly calculate the share of FOI requests made via mySocety’s Freedom of Information website WhatDoTheyKnow.com.
According to the Ministry of Justice 6,857 requests were made to “Departments of State” between January and March 2010, of which 707 were made via WhatDoTheyKnow – a 10% share. Defra and DCSF had the highest percentage of WhatDoTheyKnow requests in the first quarter, at 23% and 24% respectively. We have made the departmental breakdown of the statistics for the past two years available as a Google Spreadsheet.
Precise calculations of the percentage share are not possible, due to the way each department defines a valid request. For example, some FOI requests to the UK Border Agency (included in Home Office data) or the FCO made via WhatDoTheyKnow would not have been counted as FOI requests, but instead as “routine requests for information”, falling outside the scope of data collection for the statistics produced by the Ministry of Justice. In addition, requests for data readily available (i.e. exempt under Section 21 of the Freedom of Information Act) are not counted either by the MoJ, but will be included in the WhatDoTheyKnow statistics. Overall, these form a minority of requests made by WhatDoTheyKnow, so the percentage share we quote is fairly accurate.
The graph shows that the total numbers and percentage of requests have been fairly consistent over the past year, around 10-13%. Share of requests increased significantly during 2008 as the site grew in popularity following its launch.
The large increase in total FOI requests between Q4 2008 and Q1 2009 may partly be due to the increased popularity of WhatDoTheyKnow and also increased visibility of Freedom of Information to the general public through more mentions of FOI law in the media. Key stories in the press included Jack Straw’s veto against disclosure of the Iraq War Cabinet Minutes and Parliament’s aborted attempt to hide details of MPs’ Expenses. Requests made via WhatDoTheyKnow accounted for around 20% of the total increase in FOI requests.
It’s worth bearing in mind that the above graph only covers the 22 central Departments. WhatDoTheyKnow.com lists over 3,750 authorities including local government councils, police forces, NHS Trusts, non-ministerial departments and many more, and also covers Scotland’s public authorities. There is no national monitoring of how many FOI requests are made to such bodies, or how well they perform when responding to requests.
In total, 6,565 requests were made via WDTK in the first quarter, 87% of which were to non-central Departments. It’s unlikely that the site will ever get full coverage as the majority of FOI requests originate from companies carrying out market research, journalists, political parties and charities, most of whom prefer to make requests in private in order to maintain exclusivity over the released data. WhatDoTheyKnow would like to include these companies in future, possibly by offering a managed FOI service on a fee basis, including an embargo period prior to the released information being made fully available on the internet – more information is available from the WhatDoTheyKnow team.