Commitments

08 Easier freedom of information requests

Country: Netherlands
Action Plan: Netherlands 2016-2018 National Action Plan
IRM Report: Netherlands Mid-Term Report 2016-2018 (Year 1)
Year Action Plan: 2016
 |  End Date: 12/31/2017

From the Action Plan

 
Informal approach to freedom of information requests The Public Adminstration Act (Wet Openbaarheid van Bestuur) entitles a ‘stakeholder’ (usually a member of the public) to submit an application requesting certain information. The most common use of these information requests is to challenge planning decisions. In many instances, a request for information leads to unnecessary bureaucracy and can seriously strain the relationship between the applicant and the government department concerned. Such problems can be prevented by adopting an informal, personal approach. Rather than entering into long correspondence, a member of the department’s staff contacts the applicant directly by phone. He or she adopts an open and enquiring attitude to ascertain the nature of the applicant’s grievance and will employ good interpersonal communication skills such as active listening, summarising (recapping) and questioning. The focus then shifts from the procedural aspects to a proactive response which is clearly intended to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution.

This approach has been applied in practice as part of the ‘Pleasant contact with the government’ programme and has been shown to result in decisions of better quality, fewer objections and appeals, more efficient processes, greater public confidence and enhanced satisfaction on the part of both citizens and government officials.

Lead Institution: Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations


Support Institution: Various local authorities and the Open Government Expertise Centre (LEOO)

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From the IRM Review

 

Year IRM Progress Report Published: 2018

8. Informal approach to freedom of information requests

Commitment Text:

The Public Adminstration Act (Wet Openbaarheid van Bestuur) entitles a ‘stakeholder’ (usually a member of the public) to submit an application requesting certain information. In many instances, a request for information leads to unnecessary bureaucracy and can seriously strain the relationship between the applicant and the government department concerned. Such problems can be prevented by adopting an informal, personal approach. This approach has been applied in practice as part of the ‘Pleasant contact with the government’ programme and has been shown to result in decisions of better quality, fewer objections and appeals, more efficient processes, greater public confidence and enhanced satisfaction on the part of both citizens and government officials.

Milestones:

1.     A handbook setting out the informal approach, listing interventions, process optimisations and best practices.

2.     Assistance to public sector authorities in adopting the informal approach, by means of a pilot in one organization and at least 4 workshops for public sector authorities.

3.     Monitoring, analysis and reporting with a view to further increasing the effectiveness of the informal approach. A report on the informal approach will be sent to the House of Representatives.

Responsible institution: Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations

Supporting institution(s): various local authorities and the Open Government Expertise Centre (LEOO)

Start date: 1 January 2016                            End date: 30 June 2018

Editorial Note: The commitment text mistakenly refers to the Public Access to Government Information Act XX[Note100: Access to Information Act, http://www.legislationline.org/documents/action/popup/id/6395.]XX (Dutch Freedom of Information Act) as the “Public Administration Act.” This is a truncated version of the milestone text. For the full commitment text, please see The Netherlands National Action Plan (https://www.opengovpartnership.org/sites/default/files/Netherlands_NAP-Appendix_2016-2018_EN_revised-with-changes.pdf)
 

Commitment Overview

Specificity

OGP Value Relevance

Potential Impact

On Time?

Completion

None

Low

Medium

High

Access to Information

Civic Participation

Public Accountability

Tech. and Innov. for Transparency and Accountability

None

Minor

Moderate

Transformative

 

Not Started

Limited

Substantial

Complete

 

8. Informal approach to FoI requests

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No

 

 

 

 

Context and Objectives

This commitment was taken forward with small alterations from the first action plan (commitment 9) and is part of the Ministry of Interior and Kingdom Relations’ project to introduce alternative dispute resolution techniques and to apply an informal approach when handling FoI requests. This project is run by the PCMO (‘pleasant contact with government’) team.

Formal FoI procedures often lead to unnecessary bureaucracy, and the costs and dissatisfaction related to the way complaints are handled has increased. XX[Note101: Appendix to the 2nd national action plan, https://www.opengovpartnership.org/sites/default/files/Netherlands_NAP-Appendix_2016-2018_EN_revised-with-changes.pdf.]XX In response to this, the informal approach aims to offer a quick, non-legal way to handle complaints. The idea is for this response to be handled by picking up the phone and asking citizens what type of information they are seeking and if their queries can be answered directly by the staff. XX[Note102: Pleasant contact approach, https://pcmo.nl/wat-waarom/wat-doen-wij-0.]XX This may result in the withdrawal of a written complaint or FoI request after the government has given more information or after the citizen has received the documents.

While the commitment provides verifiable activities, the centerpiece of this commitment, the informal approach as described in the commitment, is unclear. It does not give any explanation as to how the method will be applied and how it will help solve FoI issues. As such, its specificity is low.

This commitment largely focuses on internal government reforms to address the procedures around providing information to citizens upon request. The commitment is relevant to the OGP value of access to information, however, the commitment’s potential impact is minor due, in part, to its low specificity. 

Completion

According to the government self-assessment report, the handbook was expected to be presented at the yearly conference held on 28 September 2017. XX[Note103: Midterm self-assessment report, opengovpartnership.org/sites/default/files/Netherlands_Mid-term_Self-Assessment-Report_2016-2018_EN.pdf.]XX The IRM researcher intended to attend the conference to verify the completion of the handbook but she was told that the conference was not open to researchers and was not given access.  XX[Note104: The PCMO website and the brochure initially stated that it was ‘open to researchers’. In subsequent email conversations with the PCMO project leader, the IRM researcher was told that that the event was only open to civil servants. Later that day, the PCMO website was altered to ‘open to civil servants only’.]XX Since the handbook is not available online, the IRM researcher was unable to find out whether the handbook was produced. The pilot was carried out at the National Police, but no results have been disclosed. Similarly, no information has been given to the IRM researcher regarding the two workshops that were also held at the National Police. Though the IRM researcher has requested information, the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations has not provided any evidence. The self-assessment states that the report on the implementation of the informal approach has been completed and will be sent to the House of Representatives. However, the report has not been made publicly available. 

The IRM researcher was unable to find evidence of completion other than the government’s self-assessment report, as there is no publicly available data. As such, completion has been coded as limited and not on time, although the government coded completion as substantial in the self-assessment. Although there are no early results of this commitment’s implementation, independent research has reported the successes of the informal approach. XX[Note105: Research on informal approach, rob-rfv.nl/documenten/hoe_hoort_het_eigenlijk_passend_contact_-_webversie.pdf.]XX

Next Steps

If the commitment were carried forward to the next action plan, it should clearly communicate how it will provide greater access to information.

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  Year 1 : No

Overview

Design

Specificity

Not Reviewed
None
Low
Medium
High

Relevant to OGP values

Potential Impact

Not Reviewed
None
Unclear
Minor
Moderate
Transformative

Implementation

Completion at Midterm

Not Reviewed
Unclear
Not Started
Limited
Substantial
Complete

Completion at End of Term

Not Reviewed
Unclear
Not Started
Limited
Substantial
Complete

Results

Did it Open Government?

Worsened
Did Not Change
Minor
Major
Outstanding


Starred as of Midterm: No

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