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Freedom of information Open Source Software

HowTo: Putting the FOI Monitor into action

A help file to assist you with using the free Freedom of Information Act monitoring software available from the ‘FOI Monitor’ link above.

Click on the PDF icon for a printable version

Initially you’ll need to download and install the FOI Monitor. Then double-click on the icon it’s inserted on your desktop, or the ‘MDE’ file in the ‘FOI Monitor’ folder and the following screen ought to appear:

If you find Access is confronting you with numerous security messages, you’ll need to open up Access and create a new, blank database. Then go Tools/Macros/Security and choose the ‘Low security’ level. If your organisation is running appropriate virus scanning software you ought not to be concerned about this – as is mentioned beside the ‘Low security’ setting within Access.

Once that’s done you need to edit the tables within the FOI Monitor to reflect staff in your organisation and the letter templates. You’ll need a staff list to paste into the FOI Monitor table – perhaps sourced from an Outlook list exported to a spreadsheet, and your images logo for the letter templates. Click on the ‘Options’ link, and this page ought to appear:

Delete ‘Adam Pope’ from the table, then copy and paste a staff list from your organisation into the table.

Next click on ‘Edit the FOI request release template’. This will bring up a word document that has been used to good effect in the past. Edit this as you see fit, adding your organisation’s logos wherever you think best. Do the same with the ‘First response template’ and then you’re ready to start inputting any access to information requests you may have received.

Whenever a new FOI request is received by your organisation, from the main FOI Monitor page click on ‘Add an FOI request’. The following form will appear:

The date due will default to 20 working days from the ‘Received’ field. You can then choose FOI, DPA, or EIR depending on the type of request you’ve received. Choose the staff member who received it from the drop-down box, then paste the request into the ‘query’ field. Click on the ‘Template’ button, and send the requester an email/letter indicating you’ve received the request and are dealing with it. ‘Currently with’ is another drop-down box of staff, and if you’re using MS Outlook the FOI Monitor will generate an email to that person 3 days before the request is due. The email will be generated when the FOI Monitor is opened, and will be sent from the Outlook account of the person who opened it. This email can be stopped by changing the status (the next field) to indicate the request has been dealt with.

The next field allows you to link to a folder containing any correspondence or files relating to the request. First you’ll have to create such a folder, and using Windows Explorer is perhaps the best way to do this. Right click on the ‘Start’ button, and click ‘Explore’. Then browse to the FOI area on your shared drive, create a folder called ‘Request correspondence and files’ then a further folder with the requester’s name. Head back to the FOI Monitor and click on the hyperlink button.The following pop-up box will appear:

Browse to the folder you’ve just created, and select it. Next time you’re tracking the request, you can just click on the link you have just created and the folder will open.

Finally, enter all the requester’s contact details into the fields on the right hand side of the form. You’ll then have to busy yourself with preparing an answer to the request. Once that’s done, head over to the FOI Monitor main page and click on ‘Monitor FOI Requests’. The following form appears:

From here you can view the requests, ordering them by date, type, date received, staff member and status. If you’d like to amend any of the details in one, apply any exemptions or add details of an appeal, click on the ‘Update this request’ button. The following form will appear:

This form allows you to update the record you’ve selected. You can also access this form from the main FOI Monitor page by clicking on the ‘Update FOI request’ link and use the navigation keys at middle bottom to find a specific request.

All the fields can be amended, but there are a few new ones compared to the first ‘Add an FOI request’ form. You can apply up to five exemptions to a request using the ‘Exemption X’ fields. The drop down boxes beside each field list those that are available, and if you choose a qualified exemption, that requires application of the public interest test, the following form appears:

Fill out the displayed fields to show you’ve considered this in your deliberations, and prove to any appeals authority the steps you took to arrive at the exemption.

If the request is appealed in future, by the requester, the ICO or the Information Tribunal, click on the ‘Appealed’ button on the ‘Update an FOI request’ form to log the results of any decisions.

Over time, you may wish to find out how well you are faring in answering your FOI requests. Head to the ‘Reports’ page from the main ‘FOI Monitor’ form. From there you can access statistics and figures about how much money you’ve charged in fees, how often you’ve used each exemption, the average number of days it has taken to respond to requests and so on. The extensive data produced by the reports is based on the Department of Constitutional Affairs’ central monitoring reporting requirements.

There’s also a ‘Resources’ form with links to useful FOI practitioner advice, the legislation, best practice and so on. Good luck with using the FOI Monitor, if you need any help don’t hesitate to get in contact with the Information Handyman.

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