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Netherlands

Easier freedom of information requests (NL0026)

Overview

At-a-Glance

Action Plan: Netherlands 2016-2018 National Action Plan

Action Plan Cycle: 2016

Status: Inactive

Institutions

Lead Institution: Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations

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

Policy Areas

Capacity Building, Infrastructure & Transport, Right to Information

IRM Review

IRM Report: Netherlands Mid-Term Report 2016-2018

Starred: No

Early Results: Pending IRM Review

Design i

Verifiable: No

Relevant to OGP Values: Access to Information

Potential Impact:

Implementation i

Completion:

Description

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

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)

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.


Netherlands's Commitments

  1. local digital democracy

    NL0028, 2018, E-Government

  2. dilemma logic

    NL0029, 2018, Capacity Building

  3. Join EITI

    NL0030, 2018, Anti-Corruption Institutions

  4. Open Algorithms

    NL0031, 2018, Capacity Building

  5. open local decision-making

    NL0032, 2018, Capacity Building

  6. ‘Open by Design’ pilots

    NL0033, 2018, E-Government

  7. Open contracting

    NL0034, 2018, Open Contracting and Procurement

  8. Open Parliament

    NL0035, 2018, Audits and Controls

  9. Open government standard and dashboard

    NL0036, 2018, E-Government

  10. Pioneering Network for an Open Government for Municipalities

    NL0037, 2018, Capacity Building

  11. Transparent political party finance

    NL0038, 2018, Legislation & Regulation

  12. National Open Data Agenda

    NL0019, 2016, Capacity Building

  13. Stuiveling Open Data Award

    NL0020, 2016, Open Data

  14. Groningen Open Data Re-use

    NL0021, 2016, Infrastructure & Transport

  15. Releasing ministerial research reports

    NL0022, 2016, Health

  16. Detailed open spending data

    NL0023, 2016, Fiscal Transparency

  17. Open local authority decision-making

    NL0024, 2016, Open Data

  18. Training civil servants on public participation

    NL0025, 2016, Capacity Building

  19. Easier freedom of information requests

    NL0026, 2016, Capacity Building

  20. Open Government Expertise Centre (LEOO)

    NL0027, 2016, Capacity Building

  21. Further develop and promote disclosure and use of Open Data

    NL0001, 2013, E-Government

  22. Increase financial transparency through Open Budget and experiments with Open Spending and Budget Monitoring

    NL0002, 2013, E-Government

  23. Open House of Representatives

    NL0003, 2013, E-Government

  24. Instruments for integrity

    NL0004, 2013, Anti-Corruption Institutions

  25. Revamp the legislative calendar

    NL0005, 2013, E-Government

  26. More online consultation

    NL0006, 2013, E-Government

  27. More transparency in decision-making through Volgdewet.nl legislation-tracking website

    NL0007, 2013, E-Government

  28. Informal approach to freedom of information requests

    NL0008, 2013, Right to Information

  29. From Rules to Freedom

    NL0009, 2013, Public Participation

  30. Change attitudes and procedures through Smarter Working and ‘Public Servant 2.0’

    NL0010, 2013, Capacity Building

  31. Water Coalition

    NL0011, 2013, Public Participation

  32. Develop and implement participation policy at the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment

    NL0012, 2013, Public Participation

  33. Make government information accessible and easy to find

    NL0013, 2013, Capacity Building

  34. Make citizens better informed and more empowered: public inspection and correction of information

    NL0014, 2013, E-Government

  35. Open announcements and notifications

    NL0015, 2013, E-Government

  36. Public services and the user perspective

    NL0016, 2013, E-Government

  37. Designate categories of government information for active access

    NL0017, 2013, Capacity Building

  38. Rethink information management and active access: four ‘open by design’ pilot projects

    NL0018, 2013, E-Government