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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Queensland leads in reporting on open government performance

The Queensland Information Commissioner has published a report Agency Progress on Right to Information Reforms (pdf), compiling and analysing results of an electronic audit in which government agencies assessed their own progress in implementing obligations under the Right to Information and the Information Privacy acts. By any standard this is a large project- 155 of 197 agencies provided responses to 185 items (Appendix 2 pdf) concerning compliance with the acts, legislative guidelines and other requirements. It's self assessment, with all that goes with it, but overall the Commissioner concludes "considerable progress" has been made with significant variation between sectors: 94 percent full or partial implementation of the reform obligations in the government department sector, 64 percent in the local government sector, and
  • strong reported performance in the initial implementation of publication schemes, and in putting in place roles, responsibilities, delegations and authority to implement the reforms,meeting privacy obligations and in engaging with applicants under the legislation
  • weaker reported performance in adopting the ‘push’ model, making arrangements for information to be accessed administratively and monitoring their own progress
  •  better implementation when senior governance focused on the reform process
  • An identified need for further training and awareness raising.
There are insights in this report for all reform jurisdictions, particularly the importance of high level leadership, support and governance arrangements. While all state government agencies reported an SES level Information Champion is appointed, and active in the role, this in itself isn't sufficient: "actively driving and managing the reform process (by an information governance body in departments) policy development and training" has a positive impact on almost every area of the reform process.

And agencies won't immediately see the necessity to do more than the law requires by going beyond statutory requirements in pro-actively publishing, or in providing informal/administrative access.

Agencies aren't identified in the report in order to encourage "accurate self reporting, openness and cooperation, and has been appropriate to establish a baseline measure." In the next round, the Commissioner states "the report will compare performance across agencies and against the baseline, and individual agency results or non responses will be published." Agencies have been provided with comparative information about their results.

The Commissioner commends agencies for what appears to be a good start on the reforms, and for commitment to the principles behind the reform process, but says more is now required:
After the initial efforts to implement the reforms, a sustained effort by agencies is now needed to make sure the reforms are fully realised and to build community awareness and confidence in access to public sector information.
Queensland had a head start of a year in introducing FOI reform and is way out in front in publishing information about Performance Standards and Measures pdf, and reports on agency performance like this and an earlier report on compliance with publishing scheme requirements. 

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