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Study to explore low use of freedom of information by voluntary groups

21 May 2008

The University of Strathclyde and the Scottish Information Commissioner have been awarded an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Collaborative Doctoral Studentship to explore the seemingly low use of freedom of information (FOI) rights by campaign groups and voluntary organisations in Scotland and the UK.

The award will result in the creation of a three-year doctoral research post, which will map the use (or non-use) of FOI by civil society in the UK, while examining how FOI fits within the wider priorities of campaign and voluntary organisations.

The project will launch in September 2008, following a recruitment process to identify a suitably qualified postgraduate student for the post. Welcoming the award, the Scottish Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion, who is responsible for promoting and enforcing Scotland's FOI legislation, said:

"The rights provided by FOI are being actively used by the public to access information on the issues that affect their day-to-day lives. In comparison, FOI use by civil society groups appears to be surprisingly low, with only 4% of the appeals to my Office in 2007 coming from such groups. This research will help us to better understand whether, and how, civil society is using FOI, while also identifying whether there is a need for additional resources to support civil society in its use of information rights. I'm looking forward to working with the University of Strathclyde and the successful postgraduate researcher on this important new project."

Professor David Miller, University of Strathclyde, who will oversee the research study, added:

"The Department of Geography and sociology at Strathclyde is very pleased to be working with the Commissioner on this important topic. The research will provide a first look at civil society uptake of FOI, and enable some evaluation of the effectiveness of the legislation. Freedom of Information is an important contribution to democratic governance and it will be exciting to discover how it is being used in practice".

Further information on the project is available at http://gs.strath.ac.uk/.

ENDS

For further information contact the Commissioner's Media Team on 01334 464610, out of hours, 07976 511752


Notes to Editors

  • The full research topic is entitled "Public Communication, Democracy and Citizenship: Assessing Civil Society Uptake of Freedom of Information".
  • The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 provides individuals and organisations with a right of access to the information held by Scottish public authorities.
  • Over 10,000 Scottish public authorities are covered by the Act, including the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government, all 32 Scottish local authorities, the NHS, the Police and educational institutions.
  • Where a requester is unhappy with the response they receive to an information request, they can appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner. The Commissioner has the power to force the release of information where he finds that an authority has failed to comply with the Act.
  • Campaign or voluntary organisations were responsible for 4% of appeals to the Commissioner in 2007, and 2% of enquiries to his office. In the same period, members of the public accounted for 77% of appeals and 60% of enquiries.
  • The ESRC award will run from 2008 ? 2011, and the research post is currently being recruited. Further details are available from http://gs.strath.ac.uk/.

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