Improving FOI skills - the commitment starts from the top

News release: 3 May 2013


A survey by the Scottish Information Commissioner has identified a positive link between the strategic importance given to FOI by senior public sector managers in Scotland, and the perceived usefulness of FOI learning and development (L&D) in Scotland's public authorities. FOI L&D is critical to driving efficient and effective practice.

Overall, 44% of responding authorities mentioned FOI in their L&D plans but almost one third of respondents felt the level and scope of FOI L&D in their authority was too little over the last three years. Authorities who mentioned FOI in their strategic objectives were more than twice as likely to also include FOI in their L&D plans.

Speaking as a full report of the survey's findings was published today, Rosemary Agnew said:

"Commitment to FOI at a strategic level not only helps ensure compliance with the law, but can contribute positively to governance, management of risk and effective communications in Scottish public authorities. 34% of the responding authorities currently refer to FOI in their strategic objectives. It's really encouraging to see that, where FOI is viewed as a strategic issue by a public authority's senior decision-makers, it's more likely to be embedded in the performance and L&D systems of that authority. Our experience suggests that, where authorities invest in training their staff at all levels, they meet their FOI obligations more efficiently and effectively."

The survey was launched in December last year. It aimed to find out more about FOI L&D activity in Scotland's public sector, and to identify where the Commissioner can support authorities in improving their FOI practice and realise the benefits that good FOI practice can bring.

Mrs Agnew said:

"The survey findings offer us valuable insight into what's currently happening, and where we can add real value. For example, we'll be exploring how we can provide support for authorities at a senior level to encourage them to take a strategic approach. We will also be looking at how we act as a 'broker', facilitating authorities sharing of their learning and development materials, and experience with each other - vital in times of austerity."

You can download a full copy of the report, a brief report summary and the questionnaire at: Learning and Development Survey - Report of Findings


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

Notes to Editors:

About the survey

  1. An online survey of 283 Scottish public authorities was carried out between 7 December 2012 and 11 February 2013.
  2. The survey was in two sections:
    1. The first section was directed at those with a strategic/senior role. It sought their views in relation to their authority's practice.
    2. The second was aimed at practitioners. It sought their views on individual experience.
  3. The Commissioner asked each authority to provide one response on behalf of a senior manager, and one on behalf of a practitioner. There were 288 responses - a response rate of over 50%.
  4. The survey questionnaire, a full report of the findings, and an executive summary, are available to download on the Commissioner's website at: Learning and Development Survey - Report of Findings

Key survey findings

  1. There is a direct link between the strategic importance afforded to FOI by senior managers and the amount and perceived usefulness of FOI L&D:
    1. 34% of respondents stated that FOI is mentioned in their strategic objectives, and 58% that it is mentioned in their performance measures.
    2. 82% of those authorities who mention FOI in their strategic objectives also mention it in their performance objectives.
    3. 44% of authorities mentioned FOI in their L&D plans but this almost doubles to 82% of those authorities who mention FOI in their strategic objectives.
  2. Where FOI is seen as a strategic objective it is more likely to be embedded in the performance and L&D systems of an authority.
  3. About 30% of respondents feel their level of FOI L&D was too little over the last three years.
  4. The greatest barriers to providing FOI L&D are lack of strategic commitment (42%) and lack of resource (68%).
  5. External face-to-face events and self-directed learning are the most widely used delivery methods by authorities, with individuals preferring on-the-job learning from colleagues.
  6. The findings suggest a gap in knowledge about and the perceived importance of the EIRs.

What next?

The findings suggest six areas where the Commissioner can add value. These will be explored in more detail and form the basis of future work plans:

  1. Helping senior managers understand the links between FOI and risk, governance and effective communication.
  2. In a brokerage role - understanding what FOI L&D resources are out there and helping put authorities in touch with each other.
  3. Providing more guidance on what good practice looks like, to help authorities develop learning materials.
  4. Facilitating affordable events on specific technical issues and practice - in partnership with authorities, and equally accessible to all authorities.
  5. Ensuring lessons from decisions continue to be shared.
  6. Reviewing guidance and supporting materials in relation to the EIRs, in consultation with authorities.

The Scottish Information Commissioner

  1. The Scottish Information Commissioner is a public official appointed by Her Majesty the Queen on the nomination of the Scottish Parliament.
  2. The Commissioner is responsible for promoting Scotland's freedom of information laws.
  3. The Commissioner: investigates applications and issues legally enforceable decisions; promotes good practice amongst public authorities; and provides the pubic with information on their rights.
  4. The current Scottish Information Commissioner is The Scottish Information Commissioner's biography.

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