Freedom of Information Staff Guide: Publishing Information and the Publication Scheme
SOAS has always made large amounts of information publicly available through media such as the Internet and paper format publications. The Freedom of Information Act provides strong incentives for this to continue, and to be extended to categories of information which might not previously have been published. In particular:
- Pro-actively publishing information demonstrates the School's commitment to openness and accountability, in accordance with the the School's Vision and Strategy for the Centennial.
- If information is publicly available (e.g. on the School's website), it is less likely to be requested, as users will find it themselves.
- Under section 21 of the Freedom of Information Act, published information is exempt from the right of access provided it is included in our Publication Scheme (see The role of the Publication Scheme). This is because users can get access to the information by other means, without having to submit an FoI request.
It is in the School's interests to publish, as far as possible, information which would otherwise have to be released if it was the subject of a Freedom of Information request. For example, most policies, procedures, regulations and guidelines (with a few exceptions relating to sensitive areas such as security) should be made publicly available, as they will almost inevitably have to be disclosed if requested. Publication should become the norm for policy and procedural information; contact the Information Compliance Manager if you need advice on what is suitable for publication. It is also good practice to publish information which is frequently requested, so that future enquiries can be directed to the website.
As SOAS operates a "web first" publication policy, documents which are to be made publicly available should normally be placed on the website or a non-password protected part of the intranet. Once you've done so, inform the Information Compliance Manager so that a link can be added to the Publication Scheme (see The role of the Publication Scheme).
The Freedom of Information Act requires SOAS to be clear and open about the information which we routinely make available. Section 19 says that we must produce a Publication Scheme, which must include:
- The classes of information which we publish or intend to publish;
- The manner in which each class is made available; and
- Whether the information is available free of charge or subject to a fee.
The aim of the Publication Scheme is to help the public to understand what information we make available, and where possible, to provide them with an easy way of accessing it. SOAS's Publication Scheme is available on the School's website. It is organised into the following nine sections:
- Financial resources
- Human resources
- Physical resources
- Student administration and support
- Information services
- Teaching and learning
- Research and development
- External relations
There is also an introduction, and pages which explain how to order copies and how to submit a complaint about the Scheme.
Each section is divided into classes, which represent broad categories of information. Each class has a title, and may also have a class description providing further information about the scope of the class. For example, class 1.2 in the Governance section has the title "Governance structure", and the class description indicates that it "contains information relating to how SOAS's management structure is organised and the function and purpose of each part of the management structure". The class title and description are followed by examples of documents which are covered by that class, with links where documents are available on-line. Separate columns link to information explaining the formats in which documents are available, and whether charges apply for a particular format.
It would be wrong to see the Publication Scheme as simply a list of documents. Adopting a publication scheme means that we are committed to publishing all of the information covered by a particular class. So provided it falls within the scope of a class, a document will be covered by the Publication Scheme even if it is not listed among the examples. It is, obviously, more helpful to the user if specific documents are included wherever possible.
Our Publication Scheme is based on a model publication scheme prepared by the JISC, which the Information Commissioner has approved for use by HE institutions. Using the model scheme (rather than creating our own bespoke scheme) has reduced the amount of work involved, and means that we haven't had to get the Scheme approved by the Information Commissioner. However, one drawback is that we cannot make substantial amendments to the structure of the Scheme or the class titles or descriptions without the approval of the Commissioner. We are allowed to add and remove examples of documents.
Provided information which we publish is covered by our Publication Scheme, that information will be exempt from the right of access under FoI, and does not have to be provided in response to a Freedom of Information request. This exemption is based on the fact that the information is "reasonably accessible" by other means, even if a payment is required. In practical terms, this means that if we receive a request for information which is covered by the Publication Scheme, all we have to do is refer the enquirer to the relevant section of the Scheme - which will then provide the information which the user needs to access the information or order copies. Equally, it is acceptable to refer the user directly to the information, e.g. by sending them a URL for the relevant web page. Users who submit their enquiries by email can be assumed to have web access; if it isn't clear that the user has web access, parts of the Scheme or the information covered by the Scheme which the user has requested can be printed out and sent by post. As most of the information covered by the Scheme is available on-line, orders for hard copies are rare. Orders submitted under the Scheme are dealt with by the Information Compliance Manager.
We have a legal duty to keep the Publication Scheme up to date. The Scheme will be reviewed at intervals by the Information Compliance Manager. It is important that you contact the Information Compliance Manager if you have withdrawn or made major changes to a document which is included in the Scheme, or if you have published a new resource which should be added to the Scheme.
The model publication scheme on which SOAS's scheme is based is being reviewed by the Information Commissioner. A new model scheme is expected to be issued in the course of 2008. This will lead to a revision of SOAS's scheme by the end of 2008.
Last updated January 2008