Easier Freedom of Information Requests (NL0026)
Action Plan: Netherlands 2016-2018 National Action Plan
Action Plan Cycle: 2016
Lead Institution: Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations
Support Institution(s): Various local authorities and the Open Government Expertise Centre (LEOO)
Policy AreasCapacity Building, Infrastructure & Transport, Right to Information
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.
IRM Midterm Status Summary
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.
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.%5DXX (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)
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.%5DXX 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.%5DXX 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.
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
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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Revamp the Legislative Calendar
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