Better case management of FOI and SARs: Research findings

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Martin Wright, Louise Crow, Gareth Rees

Part of: FOI and SARs Management

This document describes research conducted by mySociety in partnership with Hackney Council, Cornwall Council, Suffolk County Council, Stevenage Borough Council and East Herts District Council in early 2019, as part of the ‘Better case management of FOI and SAR requests’ project, funded by the Local Digital Fund.

This was a discovery and alpha project looking at the user journey for council staff who handle information requests to determine if there are improvements to be made by a new digital tool. In this project we set out to find means of increasing efficiency and ease of use across multiple councils, and thus better meeting the needs of citizens, from usability of service, quality of response and response time perspectives, in such a way that supports reuse by other councils.

Specifically we wanted to find out:

  • How much variation there is in how authorities handle FOI and SAR requests and to what extent a digital product could effectively support the different processes and contexts in authorities.
  • To what extent unmet needs identified in discovery processes at Hackney are shared by other authorities, and how an open source solution and/or open data standards could meet them.
  • Where a digital product could support efficiency savings in handling FOI requests.
  • What performance metrics are used or would be useful across councils to assess the performance of a digital request handling service against its objectives Whether it makes sense to support the handling of FOI and SAR requests in a single product — so to what extent there are common workflows in the two processes and whether both tend to be handled by one member of staff using similar methods.

This document is a summary of the findings from the initial research before prototyping. It briefly summarises the user research approach, and then describes our findings.


  1. Introduction
  2. Approach
    1. Literature review
    2. Process documentation
    3. User research interviews
    4. User observations
  3. Findings
    1. The wider scope around FOI requests and SARs
    2. The elements of an FOI/SAR service
    3. Literature review
    4. Framework for comparison
    5. The context and focus at each council
  4. User needs
    1. Oversight - the 10,000 ft problem
    2. The allocation problem
    3. The chunking problem
    4. The insight problem
    5. Digital services
    6. Performance metrics
  5. Conclusions
  6. Appendix 1: Interview statistics and guide
    1. Summary statistics
    2. Interview guide

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Cite this

Wright, M., Crow, L. and Rees, G. (2019). Better case management of FOI and SARs: Research findings. [online] mySociety Research. Available at: [Accessed 23 Oct 2021].