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Speaker: Properly Public: It's our information

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  • nzlemming, in reply to Ross Mason,

    Even better was getting .doc files with track changes still in the document. Hours of fun for the whole family ;-)

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2161 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to John Holley,

    I had that argument with the ATA with the SuperCity where they thought “Draft” meant you didn’t have to release it.

    Yeah, there’s a fascinating (and infuriating) tendency for some quarters of local and central government to come up with grounds for refusing OIA/LGOIMA requests that don’t pass the sniff test – mainly because they’ve been freshly pulled out of someone’s arse. I'll be promptly corrected if I'm wrong, but don't refusals to release information HAVE TO include the specific grounds with a full citation and text?

    Ditto invocations of the Privacy Act. Contrary to what too many think, "protecting politicians and civil servants from political embarrassment and public criticism" is not one of the purposes of the act.

    This clip from The Princess Bride should be played to civil servants on a loop. :)

    “You keep using these words. I do not think they mean what you think they mean.”

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12034 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to izogi,

    many of the requests they’re receiving are just massive fishing expeditions from journalists taking a stab that 1% of what they ask about might stumble on something interesting at the taxpayer’s expense of gathering the rest…

    Or, more often, journalists getting the bits selected for them by Rodney Hide et al.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18964 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Mr 1%

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16759 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to izogi,

    Public servants are people too and they can feel annoyed and prevented from doing their actual job like everyone else, especially if it becomes clear that many of the requests they’re receiving are just massive fishing expeditions from journalists

    Oh widdums, Izogi. Obeying the law is the “actual job” of public servants and if they don’t grasp that then they should find a more congenial line of work. Sorry if that’s harsh, but the idea that the civil service and Ministers of the Crown get to treat their basic legal obligations as a buffet table is incredibly dangerous.

    And just as a matter of interest, I’d like to see a breakdown of how many of these so-called “fishing expeditions” don’t come from journalists at all but opposition party research units. Funny how attitudes among politicians to the free and timely flow of public information wax and wane depending on which side of the Chamber you sit. #justsayin

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12034 posts Report Reply

  • papango, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    And just as a matter of interest, I’d like to see a breakdown of how many of these so-called “fishing expeditions” don’t come from journalists at all but opposition party research units.

    Without wanting to sound facetious, you could always just ask. I'm a civil servant working with OIAs (and BIMS) and I've answered questions from journalists and others (you don't have to tell us who you are or why you want the info) who have asked for the information about what OIAs we get, who from, how they were answered and how long each one took. The requester agreed for us to withhold the names of people, but we were happy to provide the organisations. If pushed we probably would have released the names, but most of those who didn't list an organisation were just regular New Zealanders exercising their right to the info.

    From my own experience, written PQ's are where the reaserch units go fishing. Take a look at Trevor Mallard's dump on 21 December and tell me if you think he's going to make any use at all of that information, or did he just think it would annoy Ministers (it doesn't, they're on holiday, I'm here but it's my job and they pay me for it, and I'm taking my holiday in March to go to a wedding). Journalists (not all) tend to ask a long list of broad questions when they are looking for a story.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2012 • 15 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to papango,

    Without wanting to sound facetious, you could always just ask.

    Oh, the faeces count was undetectable - fair points and pertinent anecdotes, well put. :) I don’t really care, because Opposition party research units on the trawl are an entitled to give ministerial staffers migraines as anyone else. The Chief Ombudsman used to do a bit of low level naming and shaming of particularly tardy Ministerial offices, and Steve Maharey had this hissy fit-cum-concern troll

    Mr Maharey, the former Social Development Minister, says the sheer volume of requests coming into that office was not acceptable when he was minister.

    “I’m not going to have my staff worked to ill health just to satisfy the Opposition’s research unit."

    As Idiot Savant notes with some asperity, if civil servants are being “worked to ill health” then the solution isn’t to ignore the law. Instead, you’d think Ministers have a basic responsibility to ensure staff and resources in their offices are properly allocated to meet fundamental statutory obligations.

    I’m certain the current Vice-Chancellor of Massey University would heartily concur if the Tertiary Education Minister was using OSH concerns as an excuse for dragging his feet. :)

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12034 posts Report Reply

  • John Holley, in reply to Sacha,

    Either the DIA or Auckland Council I guess.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 120 posts Report Reply

  • John Holley, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    When I was at the ARC, and I suggested this for the Auckland Council, I pushed for a records management environment where electronic content was, by default, searchable. That is, unless a staff member flags content as confidential or, by where the document/email sat within the council taxonomy e.g. HR., then material was discoverable by a public interface. This is no pipe dream as systems in use in NZ e.g. HP Trim or Objective, have these capabilities now. It just requires an actual commitment to open government rather than the lip service we tend to see.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 120 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    Obeying the law is the “actual job” of public servants and if they don’t grasp that then they should find a more congenial line of work.

    The Act specifically precludes fishing expeditions. For one who complains about others playing the man, not the ball, you surely indulge in a fair amount yourself, Craig. Please keep your contributions civil.

    PS In NZ we don't have a civil service, so you might want to check some UK-based prejudices at the door.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2161 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to John Holley,

    This is no pipe dream as systems in use in NZ e.g. HP Trim or Objective, have these capabilities now. It just requires an actual commitment to open government rather than the lip service we tend to see.

    In my view, that's the ultimate aim of the OIA. If it's not required to be secret/confidential, don't treat it as if it is. Publish everything and let the inquirer do the work.

    There's not much I like about the USG way of doing things, but the automatic declaration of public domain over non-classified information is one of them.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2161 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    Um, pretty sure the OIA doesn't preclude fishing expeditions.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1376 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Keir Leslie,

    s12(2)

    The official information requested shall be specified with due particularity in the request.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2161 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie, in reply to nzlemming,

    That's not a prohibition on fishing expeditions:

    The term “fishing expedition” appears to have received general recognition in the vocabulary of those concerned with making decisions on requests for information. It should be clearly understood that this term is not recognised in the Act as a withholding reason. If the information requested meets the test of due particularity it cannot be refused simply on the basis that it is considered to be a fishing expedition.

    See: http://www.ombudsmen.govt.nz/imagelibrary/100108.pdf

    Since Jul 2008 • 1376 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to nzlemming,

    The Act specifically precludes fishing expeditions. For one who complains about others playing the man, not the ball, you surely indulge in a fair amount yourself, Craig. Please keep your contributions civil.

    Mark: I was being dismissive towards a mindset – and one I’ve had far too much direct experience of for my comfort, which I thought was perfectly clear. If Izogi feels my comment was in any way personally abusive, s/he should feel free to contact me privately and I will issue a sincere and fulsome apology my return post.

    Meanwhile, I remain unconvinced that a high volume of OIA requests from media outlets or Opposition parties fail to meet the “due particularity” test of section 12(2) of the relevant act unless they’re randomly generated word salad. (**ETA:** Thanks, Keir. I think we can all grant the Office of The Ombusmen know their arse from their elbows on this.)

    I doubt anyone goes into the public service dreaming of spending their lives processing OIA requests. But it is a legal requirement, and how people feel about them is irrelevant. Just as I don’t find keeping my tax affairs in order a load of shits and giggles. Unfortunately, the IRD doesn’t care and if I developed a habit of filing incomplete tax returns months late I’d expect the consequences to be somewhat unpleasant.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12034 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    Meanwhile, I remain unconvinced that a high volume of OIA requests from media outlets or Opposition parties fail to meet the "due particularity" test of section 12(2) of the relevant act unless they're randomly generated word salad.

    a) that make no sense - I suspect you might have missed a "not" in there, or something
    b) that's because you haven't seen them. Some of the stuff we used to get from Rodney Hide, for example, was so wide-ranging that it was difficult to work out what he was getting at at all. Which was, IMHO, intentional on his part so as not to unduly alert his targets as to his upcoming attacks in the House (or in the media). And the same word-for-word requests would be sent to almost all departments, often about expenses of official activities. And Hide was not the only originator, although (again IMHO) the most egregious.

    I don't think izogi or I are trying to say "leave us alone, we're poor hardworking public servants, trust us we know what we're doing" or trying to avoid the fact that the OIA is part of public service law and that it must be complied with. Perhaps, instead, we're sharing public service lore about some of the shit that comes our way. Are public servants not allowed to whinge about their lot (as are, say, the partners of traindrivers) simply because we work in the public service? (And I use the "we" loosely - I have not been a formal public servant since 2005, though I have done contract work in the local and central government sector since then)

    If I had a moment in time I was allowed to affect, it would be to distract Roger Hall the moment before he thought a play about misfits in the public service would be a good idea. Glide Time has shaped at least 2 generations' thinking about the public sector, and confirmed the existing biases of another couple. No-one seems to get that playwrights exaggerate things for effect.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2161 posts Report Reply

  • papango, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    Meanwhile, I remain unconvinced that a high volume of OIA requests from media outlets or Opposition parties fail to meet the “due particularity” test of section 12(2) of the relevant act unless they’re randomly generated word salad.

    This is my experience, also. Although I have had to deal with 'any notable incidents in the last 12 months' from a journlist researching (that's probably the wrong verb) an end of year wrap up article, and, while at an enforcement agency, 'all emails on drugs' (sure, no problem, you back your shipping containers up to the side of the bulding and we'll just shovel the info out the window). And I am currently dealing with a journalist who wants 'emails to/from the Minister's office over a six month period'. They tend to be the minority. Party research units are actually really good to deal with, because they tend to know a bit about the machinery of government so they're usually asking the right department the right question. And they know how the OIA works.

    I doubt anyone goes into the public service dreaming of spending their lives processing OIA requests.

    Perhaps not. But there are a fair number of OIA and Privacy Act enthusiasts tucked away in dusty corners of government. It's not a sexy job, I've been told to my face by colleagues that it's all pointless and pedantic. I've worked for Ministers who openly disdained the OIA and the people who try to make it work. But I like it, and I know I'm not the only one.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2012 • 15 posts Report Reply

  • izogi, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    If Izogi feels my comment was in any way personally abusive, s/he should feel free to contact me privately and I will issue a sincere and fulsome apology my return post.

    Not at all. I just think it skirted the point. You're welcome.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 431 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to papango,

    But I like it, and I know I'm not the only one.

    Of course not, and as Idiot/Savant has noted most Ministerial office are actually pretty good and/or lifting their game on the OIA compliance front. But damn, some can really bear to do better and others (yes, I'm looking at you Mr. Brownlee) need the judicious application of a blowtorch - 54.8% of requests answered within the 20-day deadline is still unacceptable, but better than 39.7% the previous year. If nothing else, it's in Gerry's best (political) interest not to feed the perception that he's got anything to hide.

    I don't mean to dump on people who are doing their jobs, and doing them with the utmost professionalism and integrity. I worked as an OOP staffer for a list MP for a couple of years, and know full well it's not a delightful roundelay of expense account liquid lunches at Logan-Brown, PPV hotel porn and dodgy tilers. More like dealing with severely distressed constituents, drafting letters and dealing with the occasional outburst of unpleasantness through the mails.

    But if anything, it's the public servants who make the effort that are being let down by folks who treat the OIA as a joke.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12034 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    But if anything, it's the public servants who make the effort that are being let down by folks who treat the OIA as a joke.

    Can't argue with that. My advice on the OIA has always been "Publish everything unless it shouldn't be published as it will save time in the long run"

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2161 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to papango,

    But there are a fair number of OIA and Privacy Act enthusiasts tucked away in dusty corners of government. ... But I like it, and I know I'm not the only one.

    You probably saw this article on Vivek Kundra in the October 2010 issue of Scientific American - I just read it recently (in hard copy), shame I don't have a subscription to get to the full article, maybe some of you do, he seems to have made serious inroads to rationalising and opening up the US Govt's diverse data streams.
    He has now left the post of U.S. chief information officer to work for a cloud computing firm, here is the 25 point implementation plan he came up with and some praise from others on his leaving office, and his own reflections...
    Hope some of it is of interest...

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 5049 posts Report Reply

  • izogi, in reply to nzlemming,

    "Publish everything unless it shouldn't be published as it will save time in the long run"

    I'm not sure. I like the thought in principle but there's probably a significant up-start cost to get something like this going. That's not an excuse to avoid it, but it'd need a big shift for many agencies towards classifying all their internal information extremely carefully immediately upon creation and during drafting, instead of just doing it approximately for most things early-on and then double-checking the classification if it's ever requested, which I think is what often happens in practice.

    Maybe there's also a risk if it means nearly all staff being needed to classify info properly, instead of having just a few people who are qualified check and rubber-stamp it. Making mistakes potentially has higher consequences if there's less slack to correct them (personal info floating around in the ether, etc etc). It depends what you mean by 'publish everything', really, given that potentially millions of revisions of hundreds of thousands of drafts and millions of email threads and internal application source code and intranet pages and wikis meeting minutes and staff christmas party food preparation assignment lists and all sorts of junk are requestable under the OIA. That's a lot of stuff to be certain can go out as soon as it's created and every time it's edited.

    At the very least, I'd be keen to see responses to most OIA requests published immediately for everyone to see, except when there's good reason not to. I doubt journalists would enjoy a loss of exclusivity, though, and I don't think many agencies would go for it without being pushed. But hey, that one's just a small change by comparison.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 431 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to izogi,

    iven that potentially millions of revisions of hundreds of thousands of drafts and millions of email threads and internal application source code and intranet pages and wikis meeting minutes and staff christmas party food preparation assignment lists and all sorts of junk are requestable under the OIA.

    Fair point. But most of that stuff won't be requested. I guess I mean "stuff about the decisions made by the agency in the furtherance of the business of government"

    And I don't have too much problem with requiring staff to be better educated about the nature, relevance and importance of the stuff they create. Which might lead to them being more likely to only create stuff that was relevant and important.

    I once had a public argument with a Copyright Licensing Limited rep who was telling a seminar of librarians that it was up to them to monitor the usage of the photocopiers more diligently or the world would collapse. I pointed out to this person that way more than half the photocopiers in government agencies were not in the libraries anyway and that she really didn't understand the nature of what public servants copied. Most of what goes through the machines is multiple copies of our own documents for meetings, consultation, briefings etc. We didn't have time to copy books that she may or may not be paying authors for. [cue Islander for some choice comments about CLL :-) ]

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2161 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to izogi,

    At the very least, I’d be keen to see responses to most OIA requests published immediately for everyone to see, except when there’s good reason not to. I doubt journalists would enjoy a loss of exclusivity, though, and I don’t think many agencies would go for it without being pushed. But hey, that one’s just a small change by comparison.

    In the UK it’s http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/

    In NZ, a start has been made at http://fyi.org.nz/

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2161 posts Report Reply

  • izogi, in reply to nzlemming,

    And I don't have too much problem with requiring staff to be better educated about the nature, relevance and importance of the stuff they create. Which might lead to them being more likely to only create stuff that was relevant and important.

    Yep, well educated staff is always good. I just think it creates new points of failure which will need to be addressed somehow, like mistakes potentially having much worse and more immediate implications, and like having to trust the entire staff to get this sort of thing right early on all the time instead of being able to delegate a few specialists to check things out for certain when and where they're needed.

    I guess I'm skeptical about the 'only relevant and important' thing, too. All that information's just there because it happens one way or another, and it won't go away. Otherwise you'd just have departments full of robots. At best people will just create it or store it outside the official places, which are often still official information regardless and which usually contradicts best practices that document managers are constantly trying to make people stick to.

    Anyway I'm not meaning to be too critical of the ideas and I think it could happen with enough commitment and careful organisation, but I'm not sure it's as easy-an-adjustment as is often made out. Merely having the EDRMS systems in place doesn't solve all the problems with making info public, and enough agencies are still struggling with getting the EDRMS's in place.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 431 posts Report Reply

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