Deborah Clark is the ICO's Upstream Regulation Manager
In ICO25, we established our strategic enduring objective to promote openness, transparency and accountability. This also supports the Commissioner’s duty under section 47 of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to ‘promote the following of good practice by public authorities’ in relation to FOIA and its Codes of Practice.
To achieve this, we know that we need to support public authorities to perform in line with their statutory duties and prevent breaches of access to information legislation from occurring in the first place. This will help build trust and confidence in those responsible for making public information available. In recent years we have only been able to give limited attention to this work due to lack of resources, but funding secured during the last comprehensive spending review has allowed us to recruit a new upstream regulation team who can focus on doing just that.
We know that we can’t do this alone. It's vital that we work closely with those we regulate and who have an interest in our work, such as civil society groups, to understand how we can better support public organisations.
That’s why we have been talking to FOI practitioners and public bodies across the country. We’ve asked them about the common issues they encounter and what they need from us in order to get information access right. For example, are there tools that would help them in their day to day management of information requests? Are there particular areas where they need more guidance?
This research, which we are publishing today, has given us valuable insight into the issues faced by people dealing with information requests. While we are still working through the feedback and considering the best way to address the topics raised, we have already identified some key themes that will guide our approach and help us to target our support to where it is needed most and will have the greatest impact.
These are our key areas of focus:
- Working with key organisations to produce and pilot new tools, guidance and training for the regulated community to improve request handling.
- Increasing engagement with the FOI community, listening, sharing learning, and promoting best practice to improve transparency.
- Promoting ease of access, by supporting those seeking information to make an FOI request so requests are easier to handle for public authorities while giving people the best chance of getting the information they want.
- Supporting compliance with proactive disclosure and building an evidence base of the benefits of proactive transparency while making requesters more aware of how they can access information already available, removing the need to make a request.
If we are to achieve our ambitions we need to be clear on the impact of our work. Our workplan sets out some of the things that we are considering and we are working hard to make sure that the approach we take meets the needs of FOI practitioners and supports them to make their organisation more open, transparent and accountable. It also includes the work we have already completed, so that it is all captured in one place.
A key part of our Upstream work is sharing learning and best practice. We will continue to do this by using case studies that showcase where public organisations are getting it right. There will still be a need for us to take regulatory action, particularly the use of practice recommendations, to help drive quicker improvements in performance by public bodies than the team’s usual approach. Any regulatory action will be done in line with the FOI and Transparency Regulatory Manual.
We know that there is a lot to do, but this is an exciting time for our FOI service and we look forward to sharing our progress with you.