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Illustration of example of graphLaunch of research study marks International Right to Know Day


28 September 2008

 

 

The Scottish Information Commissioner and the University of Strathclyde today (28 September 2008 ? International Right to Know Day) announce the launch a major new research project to explore the apparent low use of freedom of information (FOI) rights by Scotland's campaign groups and voluntary organisations.

The launch of the research follows evidence to suggest that the FOI 'right to information' is not being used to its full potential by Scotland's voluntary and campaign organisations, with only 4% of the appeals received in 2007 by the Scottish Information Commissioner - who enforces the FOI right - coming from the sector. This figure compares with 7% for politicians and 77% for members of the public.

The study, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), will explore the reasons for the apparent low usage, while also mapping FOI-use within the sector and examining how FOI fits within wider organisational priorities. It will be carried out over three years by Kate Spence, a doctoral researcher at the University of Strathclyde.

Announcing the launch, Kevin Dunion, the Scottish Information Commissioner, said:

"Freedom of information rights are being actively used by the public to access information on the issues that affect their day-to-day lives. It was assumed before the Act came into effect that it would also be heavily used by voluntary and campaigning organisations.In practice the uptake by civil society groups appears to be surprisingly low. This research will help us to better understand the reasons for this and to address any factors which may have inhibited the use of FoI rights."

Kate Spence, the postgraduate researcher, who will undertake the study, added:

"I am 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".

The research launch will be marked by a seminar at the University of Strathclyde on Tuesday 30 September, which will bring together delegates from across civil society to begin to explore the issues that affect the sector. The event will provide guidance for the sector on the effective use of FOI, while also encouraging delegates to share experience and best practice.

ENDS

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

Notes to Editors

About the research:

  • The full research topic is entitled "Public Communication, Democracy and Citizenship: Assessing Civil Society Uptake of Freedom of Information".
  • 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 media accounted for 6% of appeals in 2007.
  • The Economic and Social Research Council Award will run from 2008 ? 2011.
  • Further details are available from here.
  • Kate Spence, the researcher who will be conducting the study, can be contacted at Kate.Spence@strath.ac.uk.

About International Right to Know Day:

  • International Right to Know Day is celebrated on 28 September each year.
  • The inaugural Right to Know Day took place on 28 September 2002, following a meeting of FOI advocates in Bulgaria.
  • The aim of Right to Know Day is to promote the right of access to information and open, transparent governance.
  • In 2007, over forty countries around the world celebrated International Right to Know Day.

About the Seminar:

  • The seminar, entitled Civil Society and Freedom of Information ? a missed opportunity?, will be held at the University of Strathclyde on Tuesday 30 September 2008.
  • Speakers will include David Miller from the University of Strathclyde, Carole Ewart from the Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland and Sarah Hutchison from the Office of the Scottish information Commissioner.  Rob Edwards, Environment Editor at the Sunday Herald will also provide guidance to delegates on the effective use of the FOI right.
  • The seminar will also include workshop sessions led by representatives from the sector with direct experience of the FOI right. These include Chris Barrter from UNISON, who has used FOI to access details of large-scale PFI-PPP contracts, Donna McSwiggan from Inclusion Scotland, a Paisley-based charity that has used the right to access information on local authority housing provisions for people with disabilities, and Sandy Longmuir from the Scottish Rural Schools Network, who has made use of FOI to campaign against rural school closures.
  • Further information on Tuesday's seminar is available here.

About the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act:

  • 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.
  • The Commissioner received 500 applications in 2007, dealt with over 1,200 enquiries, and issued 249 formal decisions. Of these decisions,25% found fully in favour of applicants, and a further 33% partially in their favour. 42% found fully in favour of the public authority.

 

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