This Guideline explains the concept of ‘proactive disclosure’ and sets out how agencies can meet publication scheme requirements under the Right to Information Act 2009 (Qld) (RTI Act)1 and the Ministerial Guidelines2.
Proactive disclosure occurs where an agency releases information without being asked for it, for example by publishing datasets on its website. It increases the flow of information from government to the community and limits the need for formal applications under the RTI Act.
Publication schemes, disclosure logs3, and administrative access schemes are types of proactive disclosure, supported and/or required by the RTI Act.
The RTI Act sets out that, where it is suitable to do so, information should be released informally as a matter of course, with access applications being used as a last resort.4
Some principles, strategies and standards to enhance proactive disclosure include:
Proactive information release:
Agencies could consider including links to the following options for accessing information on their website:
A publication scheme is a structured list of agency information that is available to the public. The RTI Act and the Ministerial Guidelines require agency publication schemes to meet certain minimum standards.
Publication schemes must comply with the Ministerial Guidelines. The Ministerial Guidelines set out classes of information into which the publication scheme must be organised and broadly state the kinds of information that must be available under each class.
Agencies need to provide details of:
Access to information should be provided, unless its disclosure would, on balance, be contrary to the public interest.
The Ministerial Guidelines set out seven classes of information to be included in a publication scheme:
The Ministerial Guidelines state that the information included must be:
Factors which can assist agencies to identify significant information include:
What is considered significant will likely change over time as circumstances faced by the community and government priorities change.
It is particularly important for the publication scheme to include the agency’s key documents such as the annual report, strategic plan and budget highlights and any registers that the agency is required under legislation to maintain. Section 20 of the RTI Act requires an agency to make copies of each of its policy documents available for inspection and purchase by the public. In line with proactive disclosure these documents should be listed on the agency publication scheme.
Although information may seem uninteresting or insignificant from the agency's perspective, it is important to consider that value can be created by combining data from a range of sources or using it in innovative ways.
For example, the UK Government has published over 9000 public sector datasets (www.data.gov.uk). Members of the public are able to access this information and use it in whatever ways they like. This has resulted in the development of a range of applications (or ‘apps’) that provide improved access to public data and deliver social and economic benefits.
The Ministerial Guidelines state that an agency should consider existing legislation, the privacy principles, and security issues when deciding if information should be included in a publication scheme.
The object of the RTI Act is to provide access to as much information as possible unless it is not in the public interest to do so. When deciding whether information is appropriate for a publication scheme, the grounds of access refusal under the RTI Act are a useful starting point.
Agencies are required to comply with the privacy principles in the Information Privacy Act 2009 and should ensure that any disclosure or publication of personal information is done in accordance with their obligations under that Act.
Many agencies operate under legislative confidentiality or secrecy obligations that apply to the officers of that agency or to the information with which they work. It will not be appropriate to include information covered by these provisions in a publication scheme or otherwise proactively disclose it.
Agencies should ensure that the publication scheme includes appropriate contact details. If these are the general customer service contacts, call centre staff should be trained on the agency’s publication scheme, any administrative access arrangements and be able to assist the public in how to request access to information held by the agency.
The Ministerial Guidelines state that, where possible, information listed in a publication scheme should be accessible through a direct link to the document on the agency’s website. If the information is only available in hard copy, a summary describing the documents should be included in the publication scheme, together with details on how to obtain the document.
If someone is unable to access information via the online publication scheme, agencies should endeavour to meet all reasonable requests to provide the information in an alternative format (such as a printed copy or via CD).
An agency should ensure that their publication scheme is easy to find, for example via a ‘Right to Information’ link in the footer of the website home page.
This is a requirement of the Queensland Government’s Consistent User Experience Standard. One aspect that is considered by OIC when auditing publication schemes is how many steps (or mouse clicks) are required to find the publication scheme.
If it is not possible to include a Right to Information link on the homepage, agencies should ensure that a member of the public can navigate to the publication scheme in a logical manner. For example, by locating the RTI link on the ‘About us’ menu of the website. Agencies should also ensure that the publication scheme can be located by using the website’s search function.
Agencies should ensure that their websites (including linked documents) are accessible and usable for all groups of the community, particularly those who are vision, speech or hearing impaired and for those whose first language is not English.
Information Standard 266 requires Queensland Government agencies (excluding local councils and some others) to meet certain minimum requirements for the creation and maintenance of agency internet sites, which includes the following strategies for ensuring that web pages are accessible to as many people as possible:
These standards may be a useful guide even for agencies not required to comply with them.
One way to make information more accessible is to avoid creating documents as a scanned image when preparing them for publication on the disclosure log or publication scheme. Generating documents in this way creates a file which cannot be read by screen readers.
Agencies should provide documents in accessible formats such as Word (.doc), Portable Document Format (.pdf) or Rich Text Format (.rtf). When releasing datasets agencies should:
Information in the publication scheme must be accessible on the agency’s website or by contacting the agency directly.
Generally, unless the information is part of an existing administrative or statutory scheme for which charges are payable, information in the publication scheme should be made available at no cost.
However, in some cases access charges may be reasonable to cover the costs of photocopying, postage or supervised access to inspect documents. Any charges should be justified, limited to the actual cost of provision, and clearly set out in the publication scheme.
Open licensing promotes proactive release of information by making it easier to access and re-use government-held information.
Information Standard 337 (IS33) requires Queensland Government departments to use a consistent framework to license information made available to the public for use and re-use where copyright is owned by the State of Queensland.
The Queensland Government’s framework for licensing government information is the Australian Governments Open Access and Licensing framework (AusGOAL). The AusGOAL8 framework is primarily a copyright management framework which:
Publication schemes should be updated to include new information, for example, when:
Agencies are encouraged to review their systems for publication of information to the agency’s public website to ensure that information being published is reviewed and maintained according to the requirements.
Agencies that require business units to complete a work request to request changes to their internet site could include a question on this form that requires an assessment of whether the information is suitable to link from the publication scheme.
Agencies with an electronic document and records management system (EDRMS) could consider introducing a system of classifying documents as suitable for release at the time they are created. In this way, inclusion of that information in the publication scheme can be automatically generated.9
Agencies need to ensure information in the publication scheme is relevant, up to date and accurate, and that outdated material is archived or removed.
The Ministerial Guidelines require agencies to have a procedure in place which allows people to make a complaint if information listed in the publication scheme is not available. The procedure and relevant contact details for making a complaint about the publication scheme should be clearly set out.
1 See section 21 of the RTI Act.
2 Available at www.rti.qld.gov.au.
3 A disclosure log makes information disclosed to an applicant under the RTI Act available to a wider public audience. For further information about disclosure log obligations for departments and Ministers and disclosure log obligations for other agencies, see the Disclosure Logs Guidelines.
4 As outlined in the preamble to the RTI Act.
5 The term ‘excluded entity’ means a ‘prescribed entity’ which is an entity that is a public authority only because it is a given public functions under an Act and is declared by regulation to be a public authority for the RTI Act (see section 16(4) of the RTI Act and discussion in the Guideline: What is the right of access in the RTI Act?).
6 Internet – IS26 is available on the Queensland Government Chief Information Office (QGCIO) website: http://www.qgcio.qld.gov.au/
7 Information access and use – IS33 is available on the QGCIO website: http://www.qgcio.qld.gov.au/
8 For more information on the AusGOAL framework, please refer to www.ausgoal.gov.au
9 For further information see the Queensland Government Enterprise Architecture Guideline: Determining the ex ante release status of information 2009 available on the QGCIO website: http://www.qgcio.qld.gov.au/.
Current as at: February 1, 2019