More than 440,000 Freedom of Information requests have been made through the open platform WhatDoTheyKnow. Created by international not-for-profit group MySociety, the website lets anyone easily make requests for information.
All you have to do is create a free account, select the public authority, write the FOI request and hit sent. All of the sent FOI applications are listed publicly for everyone with an internet connection to see. What’s more, all the responses to the FOIs and information disclosed is available there too.
The requests, responses, and information published on WhatDoTheyKnow are likely to be the biggest public repository of FOI data in the UK. As with all FOI requests in the UK, it’s free to use as well.
MySociety has released its first ‘professional’ FOI tool that’s being aimed at journalists. Dubbed WhatDoTheyKnow Pro, the website is a toolkit for reporters who are making lots of FOI requests and want a way to manage them. The private version of WhatDoTheyKnow has been in beta for several months and is now available for anyone to sign-up to.
“An all-in-one FOI toolkit for journalists, activists and campaigners,” MySociety describes the paid product as. The Pro system works in a very similar way to the WhatDoTheyKnow website. It allows FOI requests to be made to public authorities, using the contact details held by WhatDoTheyKnow.
Instead of publishing all requests on the website immediately – with the thought that its target audience may not want the details to be known straight away – FOI requests are kept private. When a request is made, the user sets a privacy setting, with the option of the FOI response and request appearing publicly on WhatDoTheyKnow for three, six, or twelve months.
There’s a dashboard which shows FOI requests that have been made and the stages of their progress. These include: awaiting response, delayed, long overdue, clarification needed and complete. There’s also a space for draft FOI requests and an activity feed showing what needs to be done.
In the future, MySociety says it will add the option to make ‘batch requests’ to public authorities. This means an FOI requester will be able to use the management system to send a single set of questions to tens, or hundreds, of public authorities are once.
WhatDoTheyKnow Pro currently costs £10 per month. “It makes sense that different people will attach different values to a service, depending not only on their own finances but, in this case, all sorts of other factors such as how frequently they use FOI and how accustomed they are to paying for technology,” MySociety wrote in a blog post.
It explained that the pricing was set after a survey among beta testers identified it was an appropriate starting point. “We’ll assess this after a few months to see whether it’s bringing the number of sign-ups we expect,” the blog post says.
Disclaimer: I was interviewed during the development of WhatDoTheyKnow Pro about what should be included in the tool and have a beta user account, which was provided at no cost. This expires in March 2018 and I’ve only sent one FOI request using the system.