Here’s the latest in a series of blog posts to highlight the kind of information that has been opened up to the public thanks to Freedom of Information requests on Alaveteli sites across the world. Here is part one, part two, part three and part four.
Auckland residents can now visualise future development in their community
Sometimes data released via FOI requests can be pretty incomprehensible, and frankly quite dull. That is, until someone makes a handy visualisation tool that makes the data come alive and easier to understand.
That’s exactly what happened with this request made on the New Zealand Alaveteli fyi.org.nz. The data released was picked up by the New Zealand Herald, who have used it to make an interactive map (see screenshot below) of Auckland Council’s proposed neighbourhood development plan.
Now Auckland residents can see at a glance how their council plans to change their local neighbourhood.
A similar use of data released via FOI laws occurred a few years ago in the UK after this request on WhatDoTheyKnow. The request asked for the location of every post box in the UK. The data released has been used to create useful tools like this one (developed by our very own Matthew Somerville), which helps citizens easily locate the nearest place to post their letters:
Hungarian utility provider consciously allows pollution of major river
Another great way to help people visualise the real-life effects of the data they see in an FOI response is to video it, like investigative journalists at Atlatszo did. Their short clip graphically shows a river clogged up with four times as much sewage as the treatment plant has the capability to process.
Atlatszo used KiMiTud to obtain local government audit reports of a sewage works company.
The documents reveal that five audits have been carried out in the last few years, and serious deficiencies were found each time: harmful untreated sewage was being pumped into the nearby river Tisza.
These findings led to the company being fined by the regulator. It is claimed that the company would rather pay these fines than spend the money updating their equipment.
According to Atlatszo’s investigation, the company could not and did not refute that the quality of water leaving their plant is often more polluted than legally allowed, and admitted that their equipment is not up to date. Let’s hope Atlatszo’s pressure on them will make them change their practices.
In a recent similar case in Australia, the use of FOI revealed evidence of neglect at a landfill site, with the potential for environmental harm and drinking water contamination.
The above examples yet again show the real diversity of information you can obtain via FOI requests, and highlight what an amazing tool FOI is for both data journalists, and investigative journalists.
In fact, we’re so passionate about journalists taking full advantage of FOI laws, that we’re about to launch a project that will develop a set of tools to help journalists (and others) to use FOI more easily in their work.
If you know of any interesting requests made on Alaveteli sites (or other online FOI portals) that you’d like featured in this blog post series, then please do get in touch.