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3.2 - Understand the use of freedom of information

Overall status:
On-track

This commitment aims to better measure and improve our understanding of the public’s use of rights under freedom of information laws.  We will do this by working with states and territories to develop uniform metrics on public use of freedom of information access rights, and by collecting and publishing this data.

There is currently a lack of a baseline, coherent national perspective that incorporates all jurisdictions.

The outcome will be a national view of the use of FOI laws which will help build a more complete picture of freedom of information rights in Australia and could help governments improve processing of information access requests. Importantly, international measurements have been developed by the World Justice Project and published as the Open Government Index 2015. That index considers four quadrants to measure open government, and ranks countries around the world. The quadrants are:

  1. publicised laws and government data

  2. the legislated right to information

  3. opportunities for civic participation, and

  4. complaint mechanisms.

The 2015 Open Government Index found that there was no relationship between the presence of right to information laws and how successfully those laws work in practice. Measuring the effectiveness of right to information laws is essential to ascertaining how they are being accessed by citizens and the operation of these laws in practice. As a democratic society it is important that we have systems in place to measure the how citizens are using the legislated right to information and the provision of information in a timely, effective manner by governments in response to citizen requests. The proposed metrics will align with World Justice Project Open Government Index measures and facilitate an assessment of the right to information, the exercise of that right and the effectiveness of that right in providing information to citizens.

The commitment directly addresses the OGP access to information and public accountability values by providing a national perspective on the operation of laws, for example identifying the extent to which decisions are made on time.

The value of the metrics is that they will:

  • enable the community to compare the performance of their local FOI laws with those in other states/territories/Commonwealth and advocate accordingly

  • improve community understanding of how FOI laws work

  • stimulate discussion on what makes for ‘good’ FOI laws and performance

  • support related commitments under the National Action Plan, such as commitment 3.1 – Information management and access laws for the 21st century; and

  • provide a baseline for measuring changes in FOI laws and the impact of Australia’s National Action Plan.

Current status

The development of the metrics is being led by the NSW Information Commissioner on behalf of the Association of Information Access Commissioners (AIAC) within the remit of each of their jurisdictions.

The AIAC established an officer-level Working Group with representatives from each jurisdiction to develop the proposed metrics. The Working Group has overseen:

  • an initial desktop review by the NSW Information and Privacy Commission (NSW IPC) of whether/how data for the proposed metrics are currently collected and reported across all jurisdictions

  • development and circulation of working papers with proposals for each metric aligned to World Justice Project Open Government Index measures

  • teleconferences between jurisdictional representatives to discuss the draft metrics and issues canvassed in the working papers

  • integration of jurisdictional views and further development of the proposed metrics; and

  • preparation of papers to meetings of the AIAC

Proposed metrics
The proposed suite of metrics was agreed by the AIAC in March 2017 and published on the NSW IPC website in May 2017. Communications collateral was circulated to all jurisdictions and the OGP Secretariat to promote publication. Feedback has been sought generally by the NSW IPC and other jurisdictions via metricsconsult@ipc.nsw.gov.au.

Consultation
The NSW IPC worked and engaged with civil society representatives on the National Action Plan Interim Working Group (IWG) to develop a consultation strategy on the metrics. The recommended approach was a survey of the public.

A survey was released on 18 July 2017 and distributed broadly through the NSW IPC, AIAC, Interim Working Group and OGP Secretariat. The survey was also directly sent by the IPC to the OGP civil society distribution list and contacts nominated by civil society representatives on the Interim Working Group. It was also promoted through the OGP Australia website, IPC Bulletin and via Twitter. The survey closed on 9 August 2017.

Forty-two responses to the survey were received, including one response provided directly rather than through the survey mechanism.

The feedback was considered and used in the preparation of the final metrics presented to the AIAC in September 2017 for approval and use in delivering a dataset dashboard for publication.

A summary of feedback received will be prepared and distributed to those who nominated to receive the summary and published more broadly.

The AIAC has recognised that the metrics are the first of their kind for Australia, and reflect the currently available data that is reasonably comparable across jurisdictions and the priorities agreed in the National Action Plan. These metrics relate to requesting information using formal processes set out in FOI, Right to Information or equivalent legislation. In some jurisdictions legislation and policy focus on proactive release of information with formal legislative processes used as a last resort. As jurisdictions become more proactive in releasing information, release rates may therefore be lower as more information will be made available outside of these processes.

While every effort has been made to provide a common baseline across jurisdictions, the metrics cannot deliver directly comparable data between jurisdictions. The metrics and data should be read in conjunction with the specific legislative arrangements in each jurisdiction. The AIAC Jurisdictional Compendium highlights the jurisdictional differences and is available here: http://www.ipc.nsw.gov.au/sites/default/files/file_manager/Jurisdictional%20Compendium%20Feb%202017.pdf

In addition, each jurisdiction has its own data reporting parameters and mechanisms, sometimes outside the remit of Information Commissioners/Ombudsmen, and these should be consulted when considering the utilisation of FOI access rights at a local level.

Data validation and publication
Data on the metrics for both the 2014/15 and 2015/16 reporting years has been collected from jurisdictions and used to create a draft dataset dashboard. The dataset was circulated to AIAC members in July 2017 for validation. The national dataset dashboard has been validated by each jurisdiction and was presented to the AIAC at its September 2017 meeting.

The AIAC has approved publication of the national dataset dashboard covering both 24/15 data and 2015/16 data, together with a revised description of the metrics taking account of civil society and jurisdictional feedback. 

The commitment is on track to meet the target of publicly releasing the 2015/16 dataset dashboard by December 2017.

Other stakeholders

Government: Information Commissioners (Commonwealth, NSW, NT, Queensland, Victoria and WA), and Ombudsmen (SA and Tasmania).

Non-Government: The IPC has established contact with the OpenAustralia Foundation and is engaging with other civil society representatives.

Steps to implementation

Implementation Step Implementation Period Status

Information Commissioners and Ombudsman to agree and publish metrics on information access rights, aligned with the Open Government Index.

Dec 2016 Completed but delayed

Undertake pilot for data collection and validation for the 2014/15 financial year.

May 2017 Completed

Data collection and validation for the 2015/16 financial year.

Jul-Nov 2017 Completed

Publicly release dataset on 2015/16 metrics.

Dec 2017 On-track

Status updates for commitments are provided approximately every two months. With each update, agencies are encouraged to provide further and better particulars of the commitment and its steps to implementation, which may result in changes to timelines outlined in Australia’s first Open Government National Action Plan 2016-18.

Last updated: 10/10/2017

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