Managing and measuring your agency’s performance contributes to greater accountability and transparency.1 By establishing a robust framework for the qualitative and quantitative assessment of progress against a set of criteria you can determine areas of good practice and those where additional effort may be required.2
Freedom of information is a fundamental right.3 In Queensland, the right to access information held by Queensland government agencies is established in the RTI and IP Acts.
The object of the RTI Act is to provide more information to the community by giving a right of access to government held information unless, on balance, releasing the information would be contrary to the public interest. The RTI Act supports and encourages proactive disclosure of information by acknowledging that formal applications should only be used as a last resort.
The IP Act works in parallel with the RTI Act and provides safeguards for the handling of personal information in the public sector environment and gives people a right of access to and amendment of their personal information.
To effectively implement the RTI and IP Acts, it is critical that chief executive officers foster an agency culture that aligns with the objects of the legislation and recognise the importance of the information their agency holds. Just as an agency’s people, finances, equipment and buildings are important resources, so too is their information. It should therefore be carefully managed, like any other asset.
Actively monitoring agency performance in making information available to the community is an important aspect of managing information assets. While the Information Commissioner’s statutory functions include monitoring, auditing and reporting on agencies’ compliance with the RTI Act and chapter 3 of the IP Act,4 agencies must also develop their own performance review system to manage and measure performance.
Senior executive officers must take an active role in the management of information and promotion of proactive release of information to ensure they are aware of, and increase, their agency’s level of compliance with RTI and IP. Because the chief executive officer is ultimately responsible for their agency’s information governance, the performance criteria used to determine compliance must be sufficiently robust to assure the chief executive officer that information is being managed well.
Agencies can look externally for examples of performance criteria and targets to focus the agency on good practice. For example, agencies within the same sector and with similar functions may have published performance information that could be used as a benchmark. OIC’s review reports and guidelines contain information about benchmarks of performance for certain topics.
The legislation’s mandatory reporting requirements5 are important performance criteria, however such requirements are focused on formal application handling which is only one component of RTI. Other information handling practices, such as administrative release6, development and maintenance of a Publication Scheme, commitment to protecting individual’s privacy and the pro-disclosure culture of the agency can be monitored and measured under a performance measurement framework to ensure more comprehensive information about RTI and IP is available to inform review of performance.
When undertaking compliance audits OIC recognises that all agencies are different, as are the ways they deliver their core businesses.7 OIC takes account of these individual differences when monitoring and reporting on agencies’ compliance with the RTI and IP Acts, though each agency’s performance is measured against five broad performance areas.
These performance areas are explained in OIC’s publication Right to Information and Information Privacy – Performance Standards and Measures for Agencies8, and briefly summarised below, can provide a sound basis for developing your agency’s self-assessment compliance framework and performance criteria.
A high level, explicit statement of your agency’s commitment to openness and achieving the objects of the RTI and IP Acts is required to effectively communicate your agency’s support for the proactive disclosure of information.
As per the intent of the Right to Information (RTI) Act and the Information Privacy (IP) Act, [Rockhampton Regional Council], as a public authority, must ensure transparency of Council decision making and business practices, and good governance by instilling a culture of bias towards pro-disclosure of information whilst maintaining our obligation to preserve an individual’s right to privacy.9
The success of any initiative depends on strong, active leadership and visible support from senior management. Establishing appropriate leadership structures can effectively underpin your agency’s performance in achieving the objects of the RTI and IP Acts. These structures might include for example, an Information Champion or Sponsor and an Information Steering Committee. If appropriate, your agency’s ICT or Information Steering Committee may be able to assume responsibility for planning and monitoring the progress of a work program which includes information management projects or activities.
Griffith University had a dedicated Information Management Program Board (IMPB) and a Corporate Information Management Roadmap providing a strategic information management project overview for the period 2012 to 2015. Major projects included a university wide audit of current recordkeeping content scheduled for 2013, the second stage of their Research Hub project, a staff data integrity program, employing an archivist to manage historical collections and transition to digital recordkeeping. Monthly IMPB meeting minutes contained project updates for these significant information management projects, evidence of active monitoring of progress by the IMPB.10
As part of its agency compliance review process, OIC expects agencies to monitor their openness and agility in inquiring about, and responding to, community and stakeholder information needs. By taking responsibility for your agency’s progress in implementing RTI and IP, you will not only be showing a commitment to the objects of the legislation but also helping to identify areas which may need further attention.
The Rockhampton Regional Council had a particularly effective complaint handling system explicitly linked to continuous improvement of customer service. The Customer Service Charter listed service standards for the provision of information, for example, early resolution of enquiries and timeliness of responses. The complaint handling system and Customer Service Charter were linked to provide direct feedback on the effectiveness of information services.
This system encouraged community feedback and treated complaints as an opportunity for monitoring and improving Council’s information services.11
To achieve the objects of the RTI and IP Acts information must be routinely and proactively disclosed wherever practicable. The benefits of proactively disclosing information include fewer formal access applications and greater openness, accountability and transparency.
In addition to processing access applications in accordance with the RTI and IP Acts, all agencies must maintain administrative arrangements, for example, an up to date Publication Scheme and (where required) a Disclosure Log, as well as facilitating administrative access to information. Monitoring your agency’s performance should also include regular reviews of compliance with the Information Privacy Principles (IPPs)13 including how the agency collects, stores, uses and provides information about documents containing personal information.
To be an effective tool for evaluating your agency’s achievements against a set of criteria, all performance criteria must be:
The performance criteria that are appropriate for your agency will depend on a range of factors including your agency’s structures and administrative arrangements, OIC recommendations to your agency—such as desktop audit reports—and your agency’s current level of RTI and IP Act compliance. Careful consideration should be given to those measures which are most appropriate and useful for your agency’s particular circumstances.
The examples below illustrate how a range of performance criteria for RTI and IP can be developed and implemented.
Agency A manages its information and communication technology (ICT) through a committee chaired by a senior executive. The committee develops an annual ICT plan of projects to improve information and computer management within the agency. The current ICT plan provides for an upgrade of record keeping software and a full stocktake of information, as part of a three year Information Release project.
The first year of the Information Release project involves a stocktake of information holdings, resulting in an Information Asset Register being developed. In the second year, the Information Asset Register will be published. In addition, information holdings assessed as ‘public’ will be reviewed to determine which information holdings can be published immediately and what further steps might feasibly be taken to increase access to other holdings. In the third year, further identified information holdings will be published.
The ICT committee will track performance of the Information Release project by:
The push model requires agencies to proactively push information out to the community, as much as possible, with the goal of making formal RTI applications a last resort. One way the RTI Act gives effect to the push model is to require agencies to have a Publication Scheme which publishes significant, appropriate and accurate information in seven classes: About Us; Our Services; Our Finances; Our Priorities; Our Decisions; Our Policies; and Our Lists.
The information that the community should be able to access through the Publication Scheme under each of these information classes, is specified in the Ministerial Guidelines made under the RTI Act. This ensures that the community has access to certain significant information, and can easily find the same information in any agency by looking in the same place for every agency.
Usually, this requirement is satisfied by creating the Publication Scheme on the agency’s website. To be satisfied that the Publication Scheme is making appropriate and significant information available as required, Agency B’s executive commissioned regular reports on specific performance criteria about the Publication Scheme.
Initially, Agency B commissioned annual self-audits using the desktop audit tool published by OIC to establish whether required information (particularly as specified by the legislation and Ministerial Guidelines) was being published. Outcomes were reported to Agency B’s executive.
Subsequently, to ensure maximum publication of significant and appropriate information, Agency B recorded and reported on:
To ensure the Publication Scheme is maintained and continuously improved, Agency B reports on:
Facilitating maximum disclosure of information to the community under the RTI Act requires agencies to:
Administrative Access Schemes17 are an important means of ensuring formal access applications are a last resort and can avoid unnecessary processes and costs for applicants and agencies. Agency C uses the OIC Administrative Access Checklist18 to identify information suitable for administrative access, implement their administrative access scheme and monitor performance. Agency C’s performance criteria include monitoring and reporting on the:
Agencies may find it useful to compare their performance against good practice in other agencies, that is, agencies can adopt a process of benchmarking.
An example of agency performance benchmarking can be found in OIC agency compliance reviews which compare agency performance on their use of communication with applicants to actively manage applications.
As part of the compliance review OIC calculates average application handling performance criteria such as:
These measures provide an indication of the extent to which an agency uses regular discussion with the applicant to handle the application, a practice which correlates with quicker application handling times. One way in which discussion with an applicant promotes efficiency is that it enables narrowing of the scope of the information requested and identification of the best way to assist the applicant to obtain the information they need. Discussion can also promote better relationships with applicants, leading to more successful negotiations.
The current benchmark agency contacts an applicant on average nearly five times per application, roughly once a week, using email or phone for eighty-five percent of the contacts, and has the shortest average application handling time of all agencies reviewed so far: 23.6 business days.
This is one example of benchmarking performance. Agencies could adopt a benchmarking process for any performance measure, and particularly for performance criteria with specific, detailed metrics.
Agencies can look within their own sector or in communities of practice to establish their own benchmarks for specific business processes. Through its review, monitoring and assistance functions, OIC is also aware of examples of good practice and might be able to assist agencies to establish benchmarks in specific topic areas.
Agencies interested in benchmarking in specific topic areas are encouraged to contact OIC to identify possible benchmarks of good practice. OIC will also progressively publish on our website case studies which showcase how individual agencies have established processes to review progress and support continuous improvement in implementing the RTI and IP Acts. We welcome your contributions to this project.
The performance criteria set out in OIC compliance review and desktop audit reports19 can also assist you in assessing your agency’s performance and deciding on performance criteria which are most appropriate. You can also use the OIC desktop audit tool to review your agency’s website to review compliance and identify opportunities for improvement. The results obtained from completing the self-assessed electronic audit can also usefully inform your agency in developing or enhancing your agency’s performance framework.
The checklist at Appendix A20 may assist you to identify areas where your agency is progressing well in implementing the RTI and IP Act requirements and highlight areas that need attention.
Current as at: June 24, 2015