Success Stories Worldwide From FOI/RTK/ATI Requests

28 September 2016

By Toby McIntosh

All around the world, very real benefits result when legal tools are used to obtain government information.

Because there are so many frustrations for those who seek information, it’s sometimes easy to overlook the positive benefits. FOI reform advocates need to document and celebrate the victories.

FreedomInfo.org has assembled dozens of recent success stories. Please read our special section.

Read about:

  • Rezia Khatun, a 36-year-old Bangladeshi woman, who now has government benefits;
  • A Ugandan civil society organization that exposed fraud in school construction; and
  • A US professor who uncovered lead pollution.

Collecting Success Stories

The FOI impact stories, small and large, were compiled by FreedomInfo.org from many sources.

They were culled from hundreds of media accounts and contributed by FOI advocates. They all come from the past year, although most of the requests were filed much earlier.

We have grouped the stories (with links to longer descriptions) into subject categories.

  • Health Care
  • Anti-corruption
  • Public Safety
  • Environment
  • Education
  • Human Rights
  • Policing
  • Personal/Local Benefit
  • Historical Record
  • Open Data
  • Government Operations

Please email us more examples at freeinfo@gwu.edu or contribute them to the FOI Advocates Network Facebook page.

This July, a collection of US FOIA success stories was done by the National Security Archive, FreedomInfo.org’s publisher, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the US FOIA. The UK group My Society has documented good outcomes at request sites it helped to build around the world.

How Many Successes?

The number of examples here is dwarfed by the magnitude of requests made in the 113 countries with FOI regimes.

In India, 4.5 million requests were filed nationally and locally in 2014, according to a study. Other national figures for 2015: United States, 713,168; Mexico, 150,595; New Zealand, 90,000. There is no credible global estimate of FOI requests.

A high percentage of requests are rejected in full or in part – so it’s also virtually impossible to calculate the number of successful requests.

But individual stories have power.

Legendary Indian RTI advocate Aruna Roy recently told about of Bashir, a Kashmir resident, who was shocked when a Chief Minister arrived in a helicopter for a visit. Bashir filed an RTI petition on why the minister took the chopper and how much it cost. “Apparently embarrassed to explain that the village has no accessible roads, the state administration soon laid roads,” an article about the story said, “Bashir is now a local legend.”

Academic Verification Illusive

Academic precision? Not here. This is a celebration with anecdotes.

FOI advocates often begin making their case by stressing that access to information is a recognized human right. It’s further argued that FOI improves government performance, reduces corruption, increases citizen trust in government, among other things.

Proving these things with academic precision, however, presents so many theoretical and practical difficulties that studies have rarely been attempted. Not only are there multiple objectives to be examined, but also the tracing of cause and effect is extremely tricky.

One very broad review of 16 studies about the effects of transparency was done by Stephen Kosack of the University of Washington and Archon Fung of the Harvard Kennedy School. They concluded that the literature “has thus far yielded frustratingly mixed conclusions.”

One study in the United Kingdom recently found FOIA requests to be more effective than informal inquiries in small government entities in the United Kingdom. (See FreedomInfo.org article.) (The same study includes a good summary of the academic literature.)

In India, right to information requests rivaled bribery as an effective way to cut through bureaucratic red tape in India, according to two studies by U.S. academics. (See FreedomInfo.org article.)

What’s a passing score for effectiveness anyway?

Is unmasking one corrupt politician a sufficiently impressive benefit?

What’s the value of one Bangladeshi woman winning a bureaucratic struggle?

Be Sociable, Share!

Filed under: What's New