By Steve Bailey
From our annual information legislation and management survey we know that the number of requests received under the Freedom of Information Act, Data Protection Act and Environmental Information Regulations continues to increase each and every year. And so, as a consequence, do the costs associated with responding to these requests.
As our innovative research project found out earlier this year, there is often little institution’s can do to limit these costs determined as they largely are by the varying nature of the individual requests received and the seniority of staff with the knowledge required to address them. But that said, anything an institution can do to streamline the processes associated with answering information requests can clearly only help to reduce the resulting administrative and financial burden. It may also increase the institution’s ability to cope with future increases in request numbers.
We know that many of the larger institutions and those who have found themselves in the FOI spotlight have already invested in their own systems to help them log and track the requests they receive. However, we also know there are many more institutions out there for whom the business case did not stack up for investing in specialist software, but who are now finding that their existing largely manual processes are struggling to keep pace. Equally in the FE sector, many institutions continue to find that it is data protection, more than FOI that is responsible for the majority of requests they receive and that need managing.
Step forward the JISC infoNet information request register. This Excel-based tool has been developed in conjunction with FOI practitioners from a number of universities and provides a single interface to log and track all the information requests you receive, regardless of which access regime they fall under. It automatically calculates the appropriate deadline and provides handy at a glance visual prompts as to the status of each request. It comes complete with some ready made reports to enable you to snapshot either the current state of play, or to analyse a given period and being based in Excel it’s also easy to customise to meet your own specific requirements.
Earlier on we mentioned the annual information legislation and management survey we run each year with the support of Universities UK and GuildHE. The survey and its results are widely accepted as the definitive source of data about the impact of information compliance legislation on the sector, but we know it takes considerable time and resource for people to submit their data each year. Another advantage of using our new information request register is that it collects the data we need for our survey as you go. So rather than representing a significant body of work each January all that is required is for you to copy the relevant worksheets to a new file and email it to us and the job is done.
Now that’s what we call a win-win situation!