Proactive Publication: Time for a Rethink?

28 April 2017

By Rosemary Agnew

The following message was posted by Agnew on here final day as Scottish Information Commissioner. She summarizes her final report, on proactive publication.

Today is a significant day for me, as it marks both my last working day as Scottish Information Commissioner, and the laying of my special report to Parliament. This is my last report as Scottish Information Commissioner. I am sad to leave this job, which I enjoy immensely, but equally, it is with great enthusiasm and anticipation I start in the post of Scottish Public Services Ombudsman on 1 May 2017.

That this is my final report as Scottish Information Commissioner is coincidental, as it was planned and work started on it some months ago. As I reflect on my experience of FOI, both as Commissioner and wider, I increasingly find myself questioning whether, by itself, the current FOI regime will achieve true transparency, and, indeed, whether the approach is sustainable in the long run.

The enforceable right to request information is essential, a major strength of the Scottish FOI regime, and must be preserved. However, I increasingly question whether the duty to publish should now be given equal emphasis in law. As it stands there is a clear imbalance. The current law places the emphasis on the right to ask, with the effect that it virtually demands that authorities focus their resources on responding to requests, the volume of which is increasing year-on-year. The publication duty, so essential to transparency, is falling behind. This is in an environment where society and technology continue to change rapidly.

These conclusions are informed by our latest wave of publication scheme monitoring, which uncovers some of the pitfalls faced by authorities; and our polling of public awareness, which highlights the importance of readily-accessible information to the public. Reports from these pieces of work are also published today.

But even bolstering the current regime may not be enough. True transparency will only be achieved when the public can access information at the point it is required, enabling active citizen engagement in decisions about the delivery and funding of public services. FOI must keep pace if it is to continue to be effective. It is this that leads me to ask whether the time has come for a radical rethink of FOI.

My aim in preparing presenting this report is to promote discussion about these issues. I hope that you will consider adding your voice.

On a personal note, it has been a privilege to serve as Scottish Information Commissioner for the last five years and I am very sad to be leaving the post (the transparency principles, I take with me!). FOI brings demonstrable benefits to the people of Scotland and I am both proud of what my office has contributed, and grateful to Parliament for the trust it has placed in me.

I look forward to meeting you all again in my new role as Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.

Best wishes,

Rosemary Agnew
Scottish Information Commissioner

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