Is there room for another blog on FOI?

There are quite a number of blogs about FOI now. You’ll find links to some of them at the side of this page. So what is it that I have to say that will be different?

Most blogs about this subject are written by journalists. Often they give a pretty balanced view of FOI – I particularly like Martin Rosenbaum’s blog for the BBC, Open Secrets. But what I think is missing is the view from the inside. When information is withheld, it’s always because the public authority is trying to hide something. Public authorities are always portrayed as monolithic entities – yet as any FOI Officer will tell you, there are diverse opinions about FOI and specific requests within their organisation. And while we hear lots of accusations that public authorities are ‘dodging’ FOI, we hear very little of the very real concerns of some public sector workers about the impact of FOI on their work. And when we do, it is portrayed as a resistance to change.

The Russell Report into the Climate Change Unit of the University of East Anglia back in July included an interesting quote from the FOI Officer of the University of East Anglia. He described his job as feeling “like the bullseye at the centre of the target”. It certainly can be difficult navigating a course between the expectations of requesters, the requirements of the law and the concerns, founded or otherwise of colleagues, superiors and politicians. But it does give us a unique view of FOI and its impact on our organisations. Is it delivering its original aims? Is the public sector changing? The view from within is up to now largely unheard, but is a valuable contribution to this debate.

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