Managing FOI

Authorities that do well with FOI typically demonstrate strong senior level commitment to the FOI principles of openness, transparency, accountability and engagement.

The Scottish Ministers' Code of Practice on the discharge of functions under FOI law makes clear that FOI should be recognised as a specific statutory corporate function. It should receive the necessary levels of support at both strategic and operational levels, and sufficient resources to ensure compliance.

The Code of Practice also recommends authorities have an overarching FOI policy statement. This should clearly define roles and responsibilities, and provide a framework to make sure effective procedures and practices are established. The policy should also identify a person at senior level who has overall strategic responsibility for FOI.

The arrangements to manage an authority's FOI function should be proportionate, and should take into account its size and functions and the needs of its service-users.

Managing FOI - getting started

As an authority you should:

  • Understand your duties under FOI law
  • Understand your responsibilities under the Scottish Ministers' Codes of Practice on the discharge of functions under FOI law and records management
  • Allocate responsibilities and resources at the appropriate level in the authority
    For example:
    • A senior member of staff should have strategic responsibility and be accountable for the management of the FOI function.
    • Senior managers should be responsible and accountable for establishing and applying FOI procedures and staff training.
    • Policies should make clear who is responsible for each function, including responding to requests, meeting the publication duty, and reporting on performance.
    • Key staff should be given enough authority to resolve any issues and disagreements within the authority.
  • Consider the extent to which current practices meet FOI duties
    Existing practices can often be adapted to meet FOI duties. Rather than starting from scratch it's often more efficient to review and update your practices to meet FOI duties.
  • Set up policies and procedures to meet the three duties under FOI law
  • Review your records management practices
    Make sure these are compliant with the Scottish Ministers' Code of Practice on Records Management. You will need to be able to identify, locate and retrieve requested information quickly to meet the FOI timescales. Remember also to keep records about the requests you handle: you'll need these in the event of an appeal.
  • Train staff appropriately
    For example:
    • Not every staff member has to be an expert in FOI, but everyone should be trained to recognise an information request, and should know what to do with it.
    • Key staff with responsibility for FOI should have the skills, knowledge and authority to carry out their role.
    • Key staff need support from colleagues to cover absences - whether planned or unplanned - and those colleagues need to know what to do.
    • Public-facing staff must be able to give advice on how to make an information request to the organisation, or how to access published information.
    • Staff who carry out FOI and EIR reviews need appropriate skills and knowledge, as well as enough authority to overturn original decisions.
    • Make FOI awareness part of your staff induction, and give regular refresher FOI training to all staff.
  • Make arrangements to log, track and monitor information requests and reviews
    This is essential to help you meet the 20 working day timescale. You can use a simple spreadsheet, or amend an existing case management system to do this.
    This data will help you monitor the number of requests you receive and the outcome of requests. The Commissioner also asks authorities to submit FOI data to a statistics portal every quarter, so you need to make sure you can capture this information. Visit the portal for more information.
  • Put in place arrangements to monitor your FOI performance
    We recommend you set internal targets for responding to requests, monitor them, and report them regularly to senior managers. Senior staff need this information to review performance, respond to any lessons learned and identify efficiencies.

12 tips for better FOI

Watch our short video with hints and tips to help get FOI right:


See also

 The duty to publish information

 The duty to respond to requests

 The duty to advise and assist

 Resources for RSLs

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