The FOI Improvement Project has started to implement the Action Plan agreed with the Scottish Information Commissioner in November 2018.
The Action Plan sets out, at a high level, how the Scottish Government will meet the recommendations in the Commissioner’s Intervention Report.
The intervention has helped us to identify areas where we can and will improve our handling of requests made under FOISA and EIRs.
The key changes are that we will introduce:
- new decision making processes, designed to get responses quality assured on an applicant neutral basis, without undue delay to the requester
- anew case handling model, balancing policy and subject matter knowledge with FOI expertise, aimed at getting requests on the right track from the outset
- a new training model, that supports compliance and quality throughout the FOI process and reflects on learning points
Quarterly update: 7 February 2020
The improvement focus in the last quarter has been on achieving delivery of commitments to designate and train case handlers and to roll out a new triage assessment service from the FOI Unit.
More than 280 case handlers have now been trained in core skills in FOISA or EIRS by the FOI Unit, with most reporting that their confidence increased following the training.
The triage service was designed to deliver action plan commitments on clearance by introducing objective assessment of the decision level required. Triage had been rolled out to all SG core Directorates and Social Security Scotland by mid-December 2019.
Analysis of the impact of the triage service thus far indicates that it has had a positive impact on both performance, with a reduction in average response times as well as an increase in performance against target, and the satisfaction of case handlers.
Performance improved significantly in the last six months of 2019, with 96% of requests answered on time, and this trend has continued into 2020 with 97% of requests on time in January.
The number of late cases reduced from an average of 24 in the first six months to 10.3 in the last six months of 2019.
Average response times in 2019 have reduced by two days compared to 2017, from 17 days to 15 days.
With key changes now delivered, a continuous improvement phase is starting, with three broad areas of focus – triage and casework services, training and guidance, and continuing support to priority Directorates.
Case handling models and performance across government will continue to be kept under regular review.
The FOI Network marked its first anniversary with an event on 6 February 2020 to bring practitioners together to discuss improvement and development priorities, and launching a corporate communications campaign promoting FOI as a shared responsibility.
Quarterly update: 8 November 2019
In the fourth quarter of the FOI Improvement Project, the main focus has been on delivery: supporting Directorates to designate their case handlers; delivering training in core skills to case handlers; and rolling out the new FOI Unit triage service.
At the end of October 2019, the project team assessed that roll-out of training and triage was on track for completion by the end of the year.
Early indications are that the triage service – which includes validation checks, initial assessment of sensitivity and advice to case handlers where appropriate – has a positive impact on performance.
Analysis of the first phase of the roll-out demonstrated that 100% of triaged cases issued on time, compared to 93.4% of the rest of the caseload. Performance across the Scottish Government as a whole, improved between July and October, running at around the 95% target.
In addition to the core skills for case handling product, further training products have been developed, including core skills in EIRs, new introductory e-learning for staff and resources to support decision-makers. Work is ongoing to improve guidance for case handlers informed by analysis of user needs.
The project team has held workshops with Directorates and agencies and is using improvement methodology to support those who have requested additional assistance.
The project team continues to support priority Directorates with the development of local case-handling models, which so far includes networks and hubs of case-handlers.
It is envisaged that these case-handling models will continue to evolve in light of local business needs and as designated case handlers increase knowledge, skills and experience. Directorates are being encouraged to keep their FOI improvement plans under regular review.
From early 2020, FOI improvement work will become ‘business as usual’ for the FOI Unit. The project team will make recommendations for a programme of continuous improvement and a training programme. This transition will be supported by a corporate communications campaign, informed by behavioural insights, and ongoing engagement with our community of practitioners.
Quarterly update: 8 August 2019
During the third quarter, the FOI improvement project board has identified three priorities for delivery by the end of 2019: designation of case handlers, roll-out of introductory training in core skills, and delivery of the new FOI Unit triage service.
Improvement workshops to support directorates to identify their case handlers and local models for allocating and managing requests are nearing completion. The project team is drawing on improvement methodology to work with priority directorates to identify local change ideas for testing.
The new triage service to identify sensitive or complex cases has been tested, with early indications that case handlers find the process beneficial. The triage service will continue to roll out to directorates in a phased approach.
The Scottish Information Commissioner published his progress report on the intervention in July, confirming that he is broadly content with progress so far, but indicating that he was disappointed that the improvement had slowed in 2019, while acknowledging that improvements will take time to deliver the anticipated benefits.
In addition the Commissioner identified six directorates with inconsistent or disappointing performance against statutory timescales. Priority triage and training support is being offered to these directorates, along with additional support to develop local improvement plans.
Case studies of improvement journeys were shared at the FOI Network event in June, and feedback from user journey mapping with case handlers will be discussed at the next event in late August.
Core skills training has been rolled out to case handlers from several directorates with feedback that it increases confidence of staff to take on the case handling role. Delivery of the training will be further refined and developed in response to feedback from case handlers.
Next steps are to continue the roll-out of triage and training for case handlers, and to explore support for team leaders and senior managers in facilitating effective FOI practice.
Quarterly update: 8 May 2019
During the second quarter of the FOI improvement project, significant progress has been made across the case-handling, training and communications and behaviour change workstreams.
Improvement workshops have commenced and been organised in three phases, prioritising Directorates and agencies according to their performance and volume of caseload, including bespoke workshops with Transport Scotland and Marine Scotland. The outcomes of workshops are now informing local improvement plans.
A triage test process, based on the new Criteria for Decision-making agreed with the Commissioner, has been developed by the FOI Unit. It will be tested with a selected Directorate, starting in May 2019, before a phased roll-out across the organisation, aligned to the introduction of the new correspondence management system, MiCase.
New training materials have been developed to focus on an introduction to FOISA and the core skills required for effective case handling. These have been shared with the Commissioner’s team for quality assurance and are being tested with case handlers. Further training products are being scoped and a resource pack is being compiled, again with input from case handlers.
The new FOI Network has continued to develop support for practitioners across the Scottish Government and its agencies. The network has helped to shape improvement priorities and volunteer members took part in a test of new training materials.
User journey mapping and logic modelling have been completed to underpin the development of a new behaviour change strategy. Communications and engagement activities will focus on showcasing local case studies over the next quarter.
Next steps are to: launch and evaluate the triage test; continue local workshops and support Directorate improvement planning; further develop the new training programme and start rolling out training to case handlers.
Quarterly update: 8 February 2019
The FOI Improvement Project was established in December 2018 to lead implementation of the Action Plan. It will create a new framework for continuous, sustained improvement across Directorates, in line with the Scottish Government’s aspirations to become a more open, capable and responsive organisation.
Implementation commenced as soon as the Action Plan was agreed. In November 2018, the FOI Unit provided the Commissioner with a draft response to Recommendation 1 on clearance procedures, setting out criteria for requiring a Ministerial decisions and clarifying roles and responsibilities. The new Criteria for Decision-Making have now been agreed with the Commissioner and proactively published - please see the attachment below.
This provides a foundation for the design of processes for new triage and allocation services delivered by the FOI Unit, and for working with Directorates to identify and train designated case handlers.
The Project Board has met on 12 December 2018 and 31 January 2019 to approve project initiation documentation and the approach to implementation.
The board has agreed that implementation should be managed in five workstreams: compliance; case handling; training; case file records management and monitoring; and communications and behaviour change.
Next steps are to draw on the new decision criteria, roles and responsibilities to implement new triage and allocation processes by the FOI Unit.
A programme of improvement workshops with Directorates is in development, with initial workshops scheduled for late February.
A new FOI Network to connect and support practitioners across the Scottish Government and its agencies has been established, with its first meeting held on 8 February 2019.
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