Addressing disincentives to open information


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Votes: 32

Many of the issues with the ATI process that are mentioned in the media can be explained in whole or in part by the incentives that the current ATIP process and system creates for public servants. No matter how fervent a believer in open government, receiving an ATI request is a painful experience. The amount of labour involved in understanding and clarifying the request, searching records and reviewing the resulting records for release is impossible to overstate. The real effort costs are usually many times higher even than the official reporting forms, at least in my experience, because no one is willing to acknowledge the true time and effort requirements to sort through the equivalent of many thousands of pages of potential documents for each request. Given this process, it's no wonder that records are not kept or not thoroughly searched since this could easily result in no time remaining for any other work.

For any future ATI system to succeed will need buy-in from those implementing the system and that will require the development of a dramatically less labour-intensive process. Are there ways to automate processes? Can employee involvement be limited to review?

Given the dramatically declining cost of computer storage, would it be possible for all email records to be automatically copied without human intervention to a giant database. Any incoming ATI request would be treated by the ATI office as a keyword search similar to google. These requests would automatically search all electronic resources (email, GCdocs, public websites, shared network drives) and manual searches of paper records would only be done when explicitly requested, thus removing the need for the requester to understand government filing systems. This kind of automation would reduce search time and time interpreting requests to zero. It would eliminate the risk of some people doing more or less thorough searches than others. I don't think it would be possible to eliminate the review process, but it should be made possible for this system to identify the originator of a given record and automatically send them the documents to review and to mark up any areas that are suggested not to be released online and to automate as much as possible of the ATIP office review process and to automatically track service standards and deadlines.

Maybe there are less technology-heavy and more administrative means to accomplish the same goals, but unless the labour impact of ATI requests on typical civil servants is addressed in some manner, any increase in ATI numbers will result in less and less timely results and the negative productivity impact of the time spent processing these requests will only increase.

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