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The Power of the Freedom of Information Act

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Having strong external data can really help to strengthen and validate a campaign. In a world of ‘fake-news’,  having data to back up your story is important, and better still if it’s from a reputable source.

While there are sources of data already out in the world that you can use in your campaign,  when Googling for stats you might find yourself looking for something that just isn’t there.

But there is a way that you can get access to the data you need; Freedom of Information requests.

In simple terms, the Freedom of Information Act provides public access to information held by public authorities like government departments, local councils, schools, colleges, universities and more. This could hold the key to the data you need to make your campaign a success.

Anyone has the right to request information from a public authority, so if you think it’ll really add value to your campaign it’s worth giving it a shot.

Before you get started there’s a few things to keep in mind:

Do your research first

It’s always worth double checking to see if something similar has been requested before. If it has, you’re unlikely to get a response to your question.

Timing is everything

Remember to give yourself plenty of time between submitting FOI requests and when you want to go live with your campaign so that if the responses don’t arrive in time or the data doesn’t show what you were expecting, there’s still time for plan B.

FOI must be completed in writing

In order for the request to be valid under the Act it needs to be done in writing -whether that’s a letter, email or by completing an online form.

Most requests are free

However, you might be asked to pay a small amount for photocopies or postage – the organisation should tell you if this is the case.

Responses should be given within 20 working days

Most organisations send an acknowledgment straight away but will aim to send over their full response 20 working days after the request was received – if they’re going to be later than this, they should let you know.

Get organised and prepare yourself for the responses

The responses may come in thick and fast, so you might want to get organised and create a system where you can record each response as it arrives in your inbox.

Requests for information CAN be refused

If this happens it might be because finding the information would cost too much or use too much staff time – the limit is £450 to find and extract the data. It could also be because a similar request has been made which is why it’s important to do your research first.

The Freedom of Information Act is a great resource and can add interesting insight to campaigns.

If you plan to use FOI request data as part of your campaign, make sure you’re analysing it correctly. Remember, data-driven campaigns must be accurate, as well as interesting!

Read more about our successful data-driven campaigns here.

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