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  • Prof puts MoD data in the spotlight

    Posted on April 21st, 2009 admin No comments
    Professor Alasdair Roberts

    Professor Alasdair Roberts

    An academic who has made a study of all the information requests made to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has spotted some interesting changes from the birth of FoI in January 2005.

    Law and Public Policy professor Alasdair Roberts, of Suffolk University, in Boston, USA, looked at the data relating to 15,627 FoI requests logged with the MoD in the four years since the introduction of the Act.

    His analysis uncovered:

    • The number of requests has gradually been falling from the initial peak in 2005 and the decline is most marked among private individuals - he says this could be down to “growing awareness of the complexity of the law has discouraged requests”.
    • MoD officials had a “Quick Response” category where answers were supposed to be dished out speedily - MPs and Peers had “Quick Response” stamped on 64% of their requests and were top of the table. Bottom of the pile came journalists who had “Quick Response” on just 32% of requests. However, the analysis showed that the allocation of the “Quick Response” tag didn’t count for much as MPs questions took on average 30 days to process while journalists took 32.
    • For 2007 and 2008 the data showed the MoD made a full release of information in 60% of cases.
    • Questions that resulted in the partial release of data took more time than any other and averaged 42 days. Partial release responses to journalists took 98 days and to lawyers took 63 days.

    In the conclusion to the report, which can be downloaded, Professor Roberts says: “This research note is primarily intended to provide an illustration of the kind of analysis that can be undertaken with FOIA processing data extracted from FOIA management systems used by major government departments and released under FOIA.

     “This sort of analysis can contribute to a better public understanding of the ways in which the law works; and cultivate debate by raising interesting questions about the operation of the law.

     “In this note, for example, we have seen evidence of interesting secular trends — such as the suggestion of a change in the volume of requests, changes in processing time, and changes in the mix of requester types.

     “We have also seen some evidence that different applicants may have different experiences of FOIA administration even within one department. Of course, there are many ways in which this analysis might be improved.

     “Statistical tests could be added to determine the significance of some apparent differences and trends in FOIA administration. Data from other ministries might also be added; and the MoD data set could be supplemented with other forms of FOIA processing data.

     “Of course it is also possible to complement the quantitative analysis with qualitative analysis, including a review of interpretations put on this data by FOIA requesters and FOIA administrators.”

     Editor’s note: So much for the MoD being blind to who is making the request. ‘Quick Response’, who decides if a question gets that stamped on it? But I don’t want to attack the MoD as my experience is that of all the Government departments they are the fairest and most professional when it comes to FoI requests. Heaven knows what this study would have looked like if it had been using data from the National Offender Management Unit at the Ministry of Justice!