Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Freedom of Information: what's in it for researchers? (and Daleks). Workshop, Glasgow, UK, 14th September 2009


A few months ago, either through reading the Research Information Network’s (RIN) website here or this post on Nature Network I was alerted to a free Workshop here in Glasgow which seemed of interest, and it was. I signed up right away as an attendee.

Two weekends ago however, I was alerted to this post on the BBC in that the venue in question for the event had been placed into administration. Utter bummer. I set about contacting the event organisers by email for clarification on the event and hat’s off to Event Logistics Ltd for their prompt responses. This resulted in this tweet I posted on Sept 1st. Yay, the gig was still going ahead as planned. Additional tweet the next day.

McDawg only became aware of the RIN about 4-5 months ago but very much likes what they do/are involved in. About RIN Since I also have an interest in the Freedom of Information Act (FoI) and the fact that this workshop was right on my doorstep (well, six minutes by train), McDawg simply had to attend.

The night before, I pulled together some of my Open Access (OA) swag which I have been known before to stick in my rucky when attending events of interest. The RIN are certainly fully supportive of OA Indeed, one of the sessions (Session 3: Open access, empty archives? A word of warning) of this event mentioned OA although alas, it was not directly related to OA (as I know OA) in the end, per se.

That said, as I was about to find out when I rummaged through my Delegates Pack, it did indeed contain several OA related RIN Brochures:-


Yesterday morning, I arrived at The LightHouse at around 10:00 as planned. The programme for the Workshop can be found here.

First to speak was Stéphane Goldstein, Head of Programmes, RIN. Stéphane provided some background about the RIN during his opening remarks. From my notes, the RIN “chanced upon” FoI about two years ago. Mention was made of the prelude to this workshop which was the first one in London, Sept 2008. Full details here. ++UPDATE++ As pointed out in the comment thread, there's also a podcast with highlights of the Sept 08 workshop here. I've just created a streaming version of the podcast to save folks having to download the MP3.

Observation. From the Summary Report, "One interesting issue raised at the meeting was the potential impact of blogging on the scale of FoI requests. At the moment in the UK, there are 1000,000 FoI requests a year. Might this not increase hugely if bloggers start to become aware of the potential represented by FoI". Food for thought !!

Next to speak was David Goldberg, former Co-Convener Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland who Chaired the Workshop. David discussed the “complex mosaic of FOI Law” in the UK and the differences between the Scottish and UK FOI Acts. He also touched upon one of the main reasons that I attended. See the blog post entitled “Open Access redacted” by Heather Etchevers on Nature Network. As I explained to David during the morning coffee break, there is concern amongst the scientific community about usage of the FoI. He mentioned during his talk that under Section 27/2 of the FoI (Scotland) Act (FOISA), that researchers can refuse access for information (under an FoI request) for example if their work is “part of an ongoing piece of research”. The actual wording is:-

S.27(2) Where the information is “obtained in the course of, or derived from, a programme of research”.


The next speaker was Prof Duncan Tanner, Director, Welsh Institute for Social and Cultural Affairs, Bangor University. David mentioned that “FoI is not an easy thing to use” and that “you need to work closely with records managers”. He then gave a broad discussion about FoI in terms of Devolution issues. He also mentioned “a researchers guide to using FoI” and there was a link to this on the RIN website. I haven’t managed to find it yet though. ++UPDDATE++ I think this is it Innovative Uses of the Freedom of Information Act (2000) for Research

Duncan's presentation can be found here

Next to take the podium was Sarah Hutchison, Head of Policy and Information, Scottish Information Commissioner. Sarah mentioned that over 80 countries now have FoI in place and the UK is still catching up on the likes of the USA, Canada and Australia that have had FoI in place since around 1980. Scotland however was the first country in the world to release data (under FoI) on surgical mortality rates in hospitals for example. Mention was made of website whatdotheyknow.com Her “slides will be online” so will post a link when I find it. The link is here.


A fine duo of speakers next in terms of Bruno Longmore and Hugh Hagan from the National Archives of Scotland (NAS). Their positions, respectively, Head of Government Records and Senior Inspecting Officer Government Records Branch, NAS. Hugh informed those present that the Thirty Year Rule did not and does not apply in Scotland. The FOISA was started in 2002 and came into force on 01/01/2005. One of the key concepts of the FoI is to balance “individual privacy and public need”. Hugh then took to the floor to talk about records management at the NAS.

Bruno and Hugh's presentation can be found here

Prior to a most meaty/wholesome luncheon, there were three short case study presentations from Amy Gibbons, Dr Sarah Glynn and Martin Jones. Amy's presentation can be found here and the one from Martin, here.


A most excellent spread I have to say – 10/10 !!!! Nom nom nom

Time to set up a wee Open Access stall and quite a few folks took away some of the swag. NICE.


Very brief Dr Who Segment appears if you are still reading, a hint follows, in a bit.


Freelance Historian, Harriet Jones (not be confused with this Harriet Jones) was the next speaker. Limited notes but she mentioned that Sweden adopted FOI as early as 1766 but that these days, the Swedish Government no longer record notes of their meetings !!

Parallel workshops time next before we reconvened for a Plenary Session led by David Goldberg. Nice wrap up and planning ahead for future RIN workshops. David thanked the three RIN staff for having this one “outwith London” and suggested the likes of Newcastle or Liverpool for the next one.

Final words by Stéphane who mentioned that all the PPT’s will be posted up on the RIN website shortly. During end of day refreshments, I mentioned to Stéphane that I was the only person who had taken photographs of the event and that I would get them uploaded to Flickr and provide a link. Thanks to Twitter though, RIN’s Branwen Hide despite the fact that she’s currently in Sweden at the 1st Conference on Open Access Scholarly Publishing has already placed a link to the photos here.

1 comment:

Sarah Gentleman said...

Glad you enjoyed the day and hope it was useful! Also, for anyone who missed this event and is interested in FOI - we did a short podcast of a similar event held last year, have a listen at http://www.rin.ac.uk/foi-podcast