Information Commissioners Hold 5th International Conference in New Zealand

12 December 2007

Open Sessions Include NGO Participation; Commissioners Plan Future Cooperation
By Kristin Adair for

Information commissioners, government officials, and civil society representatives from around the world met at the 5th International Conference of Information Commissioners (ICIC) in Wellington, New Zealand, November 26-29.  The four-day conference consisted of one day of closed meetings for the commissioners, as well as three days of open sessions and additional opportunities for network-building and small group discussions.

During the closed meetings, the information commissioners and government representatives discussed issues and challenges they face in enforcing FOI laws in their respective countries. Emerging from the commissioners’ meeting was a plan to institute an electronic communications tool for commissioners and their staffs to communicate with one another and seek advice and assistance as issues arise in their countries. The tool, to be developed over the next several years under the management of the Mexican information commission, would also include a public forum to provide access and allow input from civil society and others.

The open meetings consisted of panels on various topics composed of commissioners, civil society representatives, and academics. Professor Alasdair Roberts (Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, USA) gave a keynote address on the first day of the open meeting, raising five ongoing challenges for the right to information movement. Prof. Roberts’ provocative ideas about the changing nature of government information, as well as the specific challenges in implementing workable FOI laws in many countries, spurred discussion among the delegates throughout the rest of the week. Another theme, raised by Prof. Roberts and carried through the week, was the need for ongoing scholarship and building reliable sources of information about the operation of FOI laws. The Honorable Annette King, New Zealand Minister of Justice, spoke about the challenges of the past 25 years in implementing FOI in New Zealand, in particular balancing openness with protection of deliberative processes of government.

The remainder of the conference was devoted to 20 panel discussions, both in plenary and parallel sessions. Some highlights of the myriad topics included: how to create a culture of openness among civil servants; the interaction between freedom of information and development; designing effective oversight bodies to enforce FOI laws; how governments respond to politically sensitive requests; the Asian experience; managing FOI backlogs and caseloads; electronic records; and the use of information technology to manage and fulfill requests in Mexico. Each panel session included a question-and-answer period, during which delegates and non-government participants were able to join in the discussion. A significant number of questions came from civil society representatives from countries where FOI laws have not yet been passed, reflecting the growth of movements to pass laws in the near future in a number of countries, particularly those in the Asia-Pacific region.

Many of the speakers submitted papers to accompany their presentations, which are available online through the ICIC Web site. All of the panel discussions were recorded, and streaming video versions will also be accessible through the site when they become available.Although the date of the next ICIC has not yet been set, it was suggested that the meeting be held in Norway during the fall of 2009.

ICIC New Zealand Materials
Program Day One
Program/Papers Day Two
Program/Papers Day Three
Program/Papers Day Four
Delegates List

Conference Photo

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