Voluntary sector research study
Between 2008 and 2011 the Scottish Information Commissioner supported the University of Strathclyde to undertake a research study, exploring how campaign groups and voluntary organisations in Scotland use freedom of information (FOI) legislation.
The research was launched in response to evidence which suggested that the FOI right to information was not being used to its full potential by Scotland's voluntary and campaign organisations, with only 4% of the appeals received in 2007 by the Commissioner coming from the sector. This figure compared with 7% for politicians and 77% for members of the public.
The study, which was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), explored the reasons for this apparent low use, while also mapping FOI-use within the sector and examining how FOI fits with wider organisational priorities of voluntary organisations.
Outputs from the research study are available below.
Imperfect Information - 2nd phase report published
The University of Strathclyde's second and final set of findings from its research into FOI use by the voluntary sector in Scotland have now been published.
The research report, entitled "Imperfect Information: Experiences and Perceptions of the use of Freedom of Information in the Scottish Voluntary Sector", details the findings of 50 in-depth interviews with voluntary sector staff from across Scotland, and a small number of interviews with public authority officials and journalists.
Amongst the findings of the report:
- Concerns remain around the impact of FOI-use on funding and working relationships with public authorities. The closer their relationship with a public authority, the less likely a voluntary organisation will be to use FOI.
- Larger organisations with closer ties to authorities tend to use established and informal communication routes to access information, with FOI being seen as a more "aggressive" or "confrontational" approach.
- FOI-use is more likely amongst smaller, more "independent" organisations, will less access to established communication networks.
- FOI can often be used as a "last resort" - with organisations attempting to access information informally in the first instance, and only using FOI if they are unsuccessful.
- FOI may be strengthening informal communication routes - there is a perception that information is increasingly likely to be released informally, perhaps due to public authority awareness of the FOI '"back-stop" open to requesters.
- FOI is sometimes used as a "signalling mechanism" by organisations, demonstrating that they are serious about a particular issue.
- There is a perception amongst some FOI-users that public authorities can sometimes adopt strategies to frustrate the FOI process. This might include e.g. deliberately delaying responses, inappropriately withholding information, interpreting requests too narrowly, or exploiting ambiguities in request wording to avoid disclosure.
- The more organisations know about FOI, the more likely they are to make use of it.
- Guidance and training encourages use of FOI.
The full "Imperfect Information" research report is available to download below.
Initial research findings published
The University of Strathclyde's initial findings from the 'Public Communication, Democracy and Citizenship: Assessing Civil Society Uptake of Freedom of Information' research study have now been published, in a research report entitled 'Volunteering Information? The Use of Civil Society Laws by the Third Sector in Scotland'. The report sets out the findings from the first phase quantitative study. These findings will inform the development of the full research project as it progresses.
Initial findings emerging from the University of Strathclyde's study include:
- 78% of voluntary sector respondents are aware of FOI.
- Only 44% of respondents were confident they would receive the information they asked for if they made an FOI request.
- 51% of respondents stated that they had made an information request.
- 67% of those who had made a request received all the information they sought, first time.
- 28% of respondents disagreed that public authorities treat all FOI requests equally, regardless of who is requesting the information.
- 49% of respondents would be discouraged from requesting information under FOI because of a fear that it might harm working or funding relationships.
- 55% of those who had a request refused reported that they were not told of their right to appeal the decision, despite there being a statutory obligation to do so.
- 26% of respondents who did appeal, however, report that they were not told of their subsequent right of appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner.
- 84% of the organisations that responded were funded, either wholly or in part, by public authorities.
The full research report is available to download below.
Voluntary Sector Research Study - Publications and Reports
Imperfect Information: Experiences and Perceptions of the use of Freedom of Information in the Scottish Voluntary Sector
Qualitative Research Report
Will Dinan, Kate Spence and Hannah Hutchison
|Download Imperfect Information Report
Volunteering Information? The use of Freedom of Information laws by the Third Sector in Scotland - Survey Findings
Quantitative Research Report
Download Volunteering Information? Report
Volunteering Information? The use of Freedom of Information laws by the Third Sector in Scotland
Quantitative Research Report - Appended Questionnaire
|Download Volunteering Information? Questionnaire
||Conference Report from Research launch event 'Civil Society and Freedom of Information - A Missed Opportunity?', held at the University of Strathclyde on 30 September 2008.
Download Conference Report
||'Public Communication, Democracy and Citizenship: Assessing Civil Society Uptake of Freedom of Information' - Project Proposal Summary
Download Project Overview
Back to Top