"Marine Scotland is a Directorate of the Scottish Government, and the majority of the information requests we receive are, unusually for the Scottish Government, covered under the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations (EIRs) rather than the FOI Act.
"We often receive sensitive, complex and voluminous requests which can consume a large amount of staff resources, especially within some of our smaller divisions.
"In mid-2021 Marine Scotland began our FOI/EIR improvement journey, and the new role of FOI/EIR Adviser was created in November 2021 to support this project.
"A ‘hub and spoke’ model was adopted with the idea that the new advisory role would sit in the centre as the ‘hub’, and the ‘spokes’ would be dedicated case-handlers in a number of business areas, to improve capacity and resilience within each of the divisions. This would mean case handlers were both aware and confident in the legislation and administrative procedures of these requests, while trying to spread the burden of identifying the information (which can be very time-consuming) by putting more onus on the business areas themselves (‘the experts’) to search and collate any information for release.
"The project began with a survey to determine the areas where knowledge of FOI/EIR legislation and handling process was most in need of improvement, and prepare focussed actions to target key areas. This led to a three-pronged approach:
- increase case handler support
- improving training (especially focussed on the EIR legislation)
- supporting the implementation of the case handler model in selected divisions.
"Detailed guidance materials were developed (a step by step ‘Standard Operating Procedure’ for case handlers), and the FOI/EIR Adviser has worked with case-handlers to ensure these were easy to understand. This involved one-to-one training sessions with the new handlers and encouraging the development of a ‘buddy’ system within each area to ensure best practice was shared and support was available at all times.
"The ‘hub and spoke’ model has improved the quality of responses and led to a significant reduction in the number of reviews requested in the last 6 months.
"One of the project’s successful initiatives was the development of an existing ‘Teams’ channel which now has almost one hundred members, and allows anyone to post updates to request help. In addition, the FOI/EIR Adviser uses this tool to raise awareness of current issues and disseminate key learning points from recent cases.
"Weekly management reports for the Director’s office, summarising case status, and monthly ‘dashboard’ format reports for the Senior Leadership Team are also now prepared, which identify key challenges and successes over the period and improve awareness of the requests we get. This helps to monitor the response times and consequently target where help and/or extra support may be required."
Kate Webb, FOI/EIR Adviser