Transparency at the Parish Pump: A Field Experiment to Measure the Effectiveness of Freedom of Information Requests
58 Pages Posted: 6 Dec 2015
Date Written: December 4, 2015
How effective are systems of transparency, such as Freedom of Information (FOI) requests? The ambitious aims of FOI hinge on the extent to which requests produce the desired information for the citizen or group. The question is whether such legally mandated requests work better than the more informal mechanisms that frequently precede them. Despite the high hopes of advocates, organisational routines and political values may limit legal access and public bodies may seek to minimally comply rather than behave in concordance with the spirit of the law. This paper reports a field experiment that compared FOI requests and informal asks to measure which is more effective in accessing information from English parish councils. The basic premise of statutory access is borne out. FOI requests are more effective than simple asks, though the size or pre-existing level of openness appears to make little difference to responsiveness. FOI requests are more effective at higher levels of compliance than at the minimal legal levels in comparative terms, indicating high levels of concordance once within the system. The findings bear out the stronger impact of formal requests when compared to less formal contacts.
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