Feeds

The public sector's FOI Act challenge

Must cultivate culture of openness

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Boost IT visibility and business value

The "deadline" for implementation of the UK Freedom of Information Act is January 2005. What does this mean? The public sector, widely defined to include educational organisations, Government agencies, "Quangos" and other extended tentacles of Government have to be in a position to respond to prescribed requests for information on a timely basis.

One of the major operational issues is to ensure that the public enterprise has the capabilities to store, manage and extract information pertaining to the requests from its data and records. Technology may enhance these capabilities but it is contended that effective implementation of the Freedom of Information Act will only be satisfied by cultural changes in the public sector. Historically, the sector has responded slowly to cultural change, especially where it is perceived to erode the power and influence of the sector.

Some major changes in cultural attitude have been identified as critical to the effective implementation of the Freedom of Information Act. They include consistency in handling and presentation of information across the sector, a move from a paper based to an electronic environment for handling, plus management of information - namely, the requirement to move to a culture of openness from one of secrecy:

Consistency in handling of information

Many records and much information in the public sector are stored centrally but without establishment of any standards for creation, monitoring, maintenance and disposal of records. Such activities, unless they involved matters of national security, have been regarded as of comparatively low priority. In a paper-based environment there was a reluctance to store information for central access, in case the files were lost. The onset of the technology environment, where information may be accessed by departments and divisions, did nothing to encourage the sharing of information, in fact rather the opposite; it created a proliferation of amended files and records; especially if stored and duplicated at a local level. A number of initiatives have been introduced by the Government to deliver consistency and standards in retention and management of records. Rigorous adoption and adherence to these will bring credible delivery and operation of the Freedom of Information Act.

Electronic handling and management

This is an important major step in the change to "e-government", the move towards delivery of services to the public electronically. Many do not trust or even accept the delivery of services electronically. They require signed and written certification of delivery and even of destruction of records. Capabilities for tracking and auditing such electronic events are an important components in conversion of such sceptics within the public sector as well as the prospective consumes of the service. Less controversially, perhaps, policies and procedures for development, location, standardisation, plus the management and maintenance of electronic records and information are critical to cultural acceptance. These efforts have to be conducted in close partnership with IT management and major projects to ensure that minimal duplication of effort and resources occur.

A culture of openness

The Freedom of Information Act postulates that all information held by public sector bodies is made available to those who request it. While there are , of course, exemptions to this, it is diametrically opposed to the current situation, where information is made available exceptionally, though legislation in the 1980's and 1990's as well as codes of practice have made information, primarily at a local authority level, more accessible. Effective management of records will provide those who have to service requests for information with fewer operational and logistical reasons, if not philosophical reasons, for preserving a culture of secrecy, much of which has been encouraged by the lack of good records management.

© IT-Analysis.com

Related stories

Government FOI Act chief trails Data Act 'reform'
SMEs get Data Protection Act guide
Freedom of Information means grief for small biz

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
BBC goes offline in MASSIVE COCKUP: Stephen Fry partly muzzled
Auntie tight-lipped as major outage rolls on
iPad? More like iFAD: We reveal why Apple fell into IBM's arms
But never fear fanbois, you're still lapping up iPhones, Macs
Nadella: Apps must run on ALL WINDOWS – PCs, slabs and mobes
Phone egg, meet desktop chicken - your mother
White? Male? You work in tech? Let us guess ... Twitter? We KNEW it!
Grim diversity numbers dumped alongside Facebook earnings
Microsoft: We're making ONE TRUE WINDOWS to rule us all
Enterprise, Windows still power firm's shaky money-maker
HP, Microsoft prove it again: Big Business doesn't create jobs
SMEs get lip service - what they need is dinner at the Club
ITC: Seagate and LSI can infringe Realtek patents because Realtek isn't in the US
Land of the (get off scot) free, when it's a foreign owner
Dude, you're getting a Dell – with BITCOIN: IT giant slurps cryptocash
1. Buy PC with Bitcoin. 2. Mine more coins. 3. Goto step 1
There's NOTHING on TV in Europe – American video DOMINATES
Even France's mega subsidies don't stop US content onslaught
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.