Archive for Training Courses

How to be an FOI Officer

FOIMan brings you his latest article for PDP – and news of a new training course for FOI Officers.

When I first worked as an FOI Officer back in 2003, setting up procedures and systems in the Greater London Authority, the biggest problem was that nobody  (in the UK at least) had done this before. There was some guidance available but broadly speaking every organisation had to make up its approach to FOI from scratch. Things have improved a bit since then, but a lot of FOI Officers are still making it up as they go along to a great extent.

One of the ways that can improve is through academic research. This year we’ve been blessed with not one, but two studies of FOI practices. One is focussed on London’s local authorities, and the other on councils throughout the UK. In my latest piece for the Freedom of Information Journal, I’ve summarised the findings of these important pieces of research.

Once again, I’ll be answering your questions about FOI in a future issue of the Freedom of Information Journal, so do drop me a line if there’s a subject you’d like me to address.

I’m also pleased to announce that my working relationship with PDP is expanding. Earlier this year I was honoured to accept an invitation to head up the exam board for PDP’s Freedom of Information Practitioner Certificate. And even more exciting than that…this Autumn we will be launching a new one-day course for FOI Officers, based on my recently published The Freedom of Information Officer’s Handbook. The first dates for ‘The Role of The FOI Officer’ have been announced, beginning in London on 31 October, with subsequent courses running in Manchester, Glasgow and Belfast over the next year. If you’d like to discuss the best ways to manage and improve FOI performance, or want to more readily decipher decision notices, do please consider booking to join me on one of the days. Details of the course can be found on PDP’s website.

Don’t forget as well the other events I’ll be speaking at this Autumn, most of which are still taking bookings. I hope to see you there!

New FOI Media Masterclass Launches

FOIMan announces the launch of an exciting new Masterclass in FOI for journalists and the media.

Flyer for Media MasterclassI’m very excited to announce a new collaboration between FOIMan and the creator of FOI Directory, journalist Matt Burgess.

Matt’s new book Freedom of Information: a practical guide for UK journalists will be published later this month (and is available for pre-order). As well as being a thoroughly nice chap, he is extremely knowledgeable about how the media and others can get the most out of FOI. With this in mind, I’ve asked Matt to collaborate with me in developing a new Masterclass for the media.

Matt and I will share the delivery of the Masterclass. We hope that bringing together the experience and knowledge of a former practitioner with that of an active journalist will result in a unique learning experience for journalists and other writers who want to use FOI to great effect.

If you’re interested in attending the first Masterclass, we’re holding it in London on 30 October – full details and a booking form can be found on the FOI Media Masterclass page. A flyer is also available for download.

Social Media and Me

FOIMan reflects on how social media has benefitted his life and career, and considers their impact – good and bad – on individuals and employers. This piece accompanies a guest post at Blog Now.

socmed-ad1Later this year I’ll be celebrating five years of writing this blog and of its accompanying Twitter feed @foimanuk. When I started them, I had no idea of the impact they would have on my life.

Five years ago I considered myself fortunate to have a job that I didn’t hate, but was feeling a bit jaded and not at all sure where I was going career-wise. I enjoyed being an FOI Officer and information rights practitioner, but there wasn’t an obvious route for career progression. If I wanted a new job, it almost certainly meant going somewhere else at the same level, often doing the same things (or possibly doing more for less).

Now I work for myself – training, advising and writing. This year I’ve travelled to Brunei for work, and whilst my work doesn’t usually take me to such exotic climes, it certainly offers variety. And I don’t have a regular commute on a crowded train. Like all jobs, it has its frustrations, but I love what I do now in a way that I wouldn’t have conceived of back in 2010. And it has happened because of social media.

There have been downsides. I’ve got carried away and tweeted things I came to regret. I’ve been upset by reaction to one or two of my blogposts, and occasionally by what other people have written about me on Twitter and elsewhere. When I first unmasked myself, I was very nervous about how it would affect my job. Without the welcome perspective of Mrs F, I could very easily have become addicted and would never have put my phone down.

My experience illustrates the huge advantages and opportunities that social media offer, but also the tremendous risks that they pose to individuals and to the organisations that employ them. We’ve all cringed when a friend has overshared on Facebook, but what happens when they’re a social worker talking about a family they’re working with? What if someone leaves a comment on your website defaming a celebrity or politician? How do you react when your company is at the centre of a Twitter storm – your reputation being destroyed before your eyes? Are you liable if one of your employees posts a photo on your company blog without seeking permission from the photographer?

I’ve been looking at all these questions and others as part of my research for a new training course that I’m running for Act Now Training – Data Protection, The Law & Social Media. It’s a fascinating subject – how do our existing laws cope with new ways to create and share information? What are the implications of so much freedom? What practical steps should organisations take to protect themselves and their employees? The challenge is not finding material to include, but deciding what to leave out.

If you want to know more, please do read my guest post on the Blog Now website and perhaps consider joining me for one of the courses I’m running next month – details are in the Blog Now post or can be found on the Act Now Training website.

FOIMan Flies East

FOIMan brings tales of his recent exploits – delivering training in Brunei Darussalam.

The Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, Brunei

The Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, Brunei

Regular readers will have noticed that I’ve been a little quiet here on the website. This is largely because of a big project I’ve been delivering for my friends at Act Now Training.

Ibrahim Hasan, Director of Act Now, asked me some months ago if I’d be willing to deliver training on Data Protection auditing to the Brunei Government. Somewhat hesitantly I agreed, and admit that I was sceptical that it would actually happen. But then a few months later Ibrahim emailed to say “We’re on”. Apparently my scepticism was misplaced.

I’m going to admit it…I didn’t actually know where Brunei was. I thought I did, but further investigation revealed that I had been mistaken. Not a good start. This despite the fact that my last employer had a building named after the place (and funded by its ruler). (Quiz lovers may want to squirrel away the fact that the Brunei Gallery in Russell Square is the only building in London with an apology written on it. You never know what you’ll learn on this site.)

Kampung Ayer stilt village, Brunei

Kampung Ayer stilt village, Brunei

For much of January I was preparing a training course on a data protection regime different to the one I was used to (though thankfully based on it). Reading Lonely Planet guidebooks and (I confess) Wikipedia, I learnt about many cultural differences. I was a little excited about the opportunity, but as a wise man once said, excitement is what you call fear after the event.

The day of departure soon arrived, and 16 hours after leaving Heathrow, we touched down in Bandar Seri Bagawan, Brunei’s capital. It was soon clear that any worries I had about cultural differences were misplaced – from the moment we were picked up at the airport, the people we met could not have been friendlier.

Great Egret, Brunei

Great Egret, Brunei

We had a day to ourselves for a little sightseeing and we took full advantage, visiting the impressive Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, the traditional stilt villages of the capital at Kampung Ayer, and wildlife at the edge of the Bornean jungle fringing the city. Ibrahim in particular was keen to engage in a wide range of the culinary experiences of Brunei, so we ate adventurously and well!

The training itself went better than I could have dreamed beforehand. It helped having two of us to break things up, and Ibrahim’s input was crucial. I confessed in advance that I’d been nervous of delivering training in front of a fellow trainer, but we soon formed a double act which appeared to win our audience over.

It’s always nice to come home, but visiting and delivering training in Brunei is an experience I will always remember fondly. And not one I ever expected!

Ibrahim has written in more length and depth about our Brunei adventures on the Blog Now site. You can even see me in action delivering training to our hosts!


BCS you’re worth it… (sorry)

FOIMan reflects on going from student to master in a very short period.

As regular readers will know, this year has seen a big change in my career. Up until last Christmas I was an FOI Officer who did the odd bit of training in his spare time. In January I left that all behind to become a full-time freelance trainer and consultant.

One of the things that I was most nervous of as I looked down my list of bookings from Act Now Training at the start of the year (who still provide me with the vast majority of my work, and are a pleasure to work with) was delivering Act Now’s course for the British Computing Society’s formal qualification in Data Protection earlier in the summer. It was only a couple of years ago that I undertook the course as a student and it was a challenge then. I’ve written a piece for Act Now Training’s blog on making the transition from student to tutor.

As it happened I ended up delivering both the Data Protection and Freedom of Information courses, and in the end I thoroughly enjoyed tutoring it. I’m still learning – about training, as well as about my supposed areas of expertise – but that’s part of the fun, and working with students to get to grips with some of the more complicated and controversial aspects of information rights has certainly helped me. I’ll find out if it helped them when the exam results come out next month! But the feedback at the end of each course was thankfully really positive and most people seemed to enjoy it, even if they were nervous about the exam.

Next month I get back from my holidays, stepping out of the resort swimming pool and plunging straight back into a new set of BCS courses – this time in Belfast. So Northern Ireland readers contemplating a qualification in FOI or DP, please do consider joining me! If you’re not in Northern Ireland or can’t afford it this time, do take a look at Act Now Training’s course schedule and it would be great to see you on a future course. I’m also running a BCS course in-house for one of their clients, so if there are enough of you interested in your organisation, you may want to explore that.

I hope you’ll excuse the odd post like this one updating you on progress with my new business and – of course – plugging some of my courses. After all, they help keep me fed and watered so that I can provide other useful stuff here on the blog. And if you know anyone who is looking for training or help with data protection, freedom of information or records management, please do point them in my direction!