It just goes to show what a great resource whatdotheyknow.com is. If you haven’t used it yet, have a look at it ASAP.
The site allows you to:
- Make requests to any public authority in the UK
- Browse past requests made through the site
- Get FOI advice from its large community of users
I’ve been using it quite a lot recently and have a couple of tips to help you make the most use of it.
1) Remember it’s public!
If you have an especially sensitive FOI, you might want to consider sending it directly to the body you are dealing with – all responses to requests made through WhatDoTheyKnow are put on the site.
Just remember that you should have a good reason for doing this – an open archive of FOI responses is a great asset for an open society and a key part of citizen journalism, allowing others to find you and suggest questions and tactics.
2) Finding contacts
It’s not just the other users that you can get in touch with on WhatDoTheyKnow. The site publishes the email addresses of every information office it sends requests to – especially useful for those public bodies that don’t like to publicise their FOI contacts.
To find these addresses search the site’s list of public authorities and go to the homepage for the one that you want.
On the right hand side of the page is a header saying “More about this authority”. Under there is a tab to view the email address that WhatDoTheyKnow.com sends its requests to.
3) Using Google search
It’s worth using Google to search for information on WhatDoTheyKnow.com. This allows you to really get a handle of the WhatDoTheyKnow archive, giving you ideas for new requests or data that you can combine to make a new story.
To do this use a specific site search in Google like this:
Follow this with the information you need.
For example, I was recently researching the Territorial Support Group, the Met’s riot squad. To do so, I Googled:
site:whatdotheyknow.com “territorial support group”
The inverted commas meant that Google looked for all pages on WhatDoTheyKnow.com where the words territorial, support and group appeared consecutively as a single phrase – so pages where the words were spread across a page weren’t returned. This saved me from wading through piles of irrelevant results.
If you want to know more about advanced searches on Google, BBC journalist Paul Myers has a good tutorial.