Over the last decade there has been increasing need for all publicly owned organisations to give access to information which is held due to the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act 2000.
The introduction of FOI publication schemes enabled organisations to show what information is regularly published and made authorities take a step back and consider what would be of interest to people that they did not already make available.
From January 2005 this was extended to give everyone (the general public, businesses, the media etc) the right to access information which is held by public authorities. Transparency and openness are key parts of the Freedom of Information Act, allowing people to hold the council to account by understanding decisions made. The information disclosed therefore has a real value in aiding openness whilst also acting as an insight into the types of information held by the Council that people are interested in.
What is Cambridgeshire County Council doing?
Cambridgeshire County Council holds a vast amount of information and data which is used by different council services. In recent years we have received on average 1100 FOI requests per year, resulting in a significant amount of information being disclosed. It is important for the Council to deal with these requests in an effective and efficient way. Being proactive in making previously requested information available helps to reduce duplication of effort on behalf of staff and can also play a role in focusing the details of a new request (i.e. asking for an update for a new time period, or just seeking some additional details to go alongside what we’ve already put together).
Additionally, whilst at the basic level we ‘have’ to reply to these requests as a statutory requirement, clearly as we are putting resources into producing responses it is a worthwhile goal to help others get as much value out of those responses as possible. Often the benefits of disclosure are quite contained, with an individual receiving that information and then potentially using it for their own purposes. There is a clear potential that information requested by one person could be of interest to many others, getting much more value out of the work completed to put the information and data together. Without putting the information out there, particularly in a re-usable way, that potential cannot be exploited.
The aim of this project therefore is to put in place a sustainable open data process as part of our FOI responsibilities. We are using FOI requests as a way to understand the types of information that people are interested in (as these requests, by their very nature, normally focus on information that is not publicly available otherwise) and to help embed good open data practice more widely in the organisation.
Why use FOI?
FOI requests tend to reach most areas of the Council over the course of a year so they provide an excellent starting point to get teams to consider the information they hold and what value could be gained by not simple disclosing information, but doing so in a reusable way.
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