Changing the story behind freedom of information through peer pressure

In an article on changing corporate culture, strategic adviser Peter Bregman suggests the power of peer pressure to affect far-reaching change within the culture of a business .  Bregman cites a study by Leann Lipps Birch that showed children’s preferences for foods they disliked increased when they saw their peers eating the same foods.  Using this as a launching pad, he suggests the best way to change the culture of a company is to do positive, story-worthy things, or showcase those who are making positive efforts, and change the stories being told. Once people hear positive stories about their agency, they are more likely to follow suit.

We live by stories. We tell them, repeat them, listen to them carefully, and act in accordance with them. – Peter Bregman

What does this have to do with freedom of information? A look through stories in recent media shows that some public bodies and government officials are still less than excited to cooperate with the public’s demand for greater transparency and access to information. For example,  the House Committee for Government Oversight and Reform recently to investigated questionable Department of Labor policies that would affect media outlets. Additionally, committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) questioned Attorney General Eric Holder regarding the  ‘Fast and Furious’ operation.  These show public bodies need to shift from secrecy to transparency, ideally sparking a change among requesters — from suspicion to cautious trust.

However, there are still those who work to further government transparency, effectively changing the nature of the stories being told. For instance:

  • Maurice Frankel, a freedom of information expert in the United Kingdom, is using the power of peer pressure to force change in his corner of the world. In a recent article, he offered The Netherlands’ punitive measures as an example of what can be done in instances of  freedom of information violations. Adding insult to injury, FOI violators may be subject to fines of 30 euros daily for late responses to FOI requests, to be paid directly to the requester. Fines can reach a maximum of 1260 euros. Frankel adds that The Netherlands FOI laws are currently under review, so the efficacy of these punitive measures may soon be known.
  • Rosemary Agnew, Scotland’s  Information Commissioner,  is looking for ways to inexpensively train public bodies. Agnew is trying to help public bodies  respond correctly to requests when they’re first made, effectively freeing up resources in the process.  Agnew has experience with responding to freedom of information requests. She found training to be expensive, and is working to find ways to make training more affordable and accessible to all employees in the public sector.

Whitney is the summer Pulliam/Killgore intern with SPJ. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University after studying journalism. Connect with her via email –  wevans@hq.spj.org –  or on twitter – @whitevs7

*Know something about Freedom of Information that you think we should cover in a blog post? We want to hear from you! Send information to wevans@HQ.SPJ.org. It may be featured in a future post.

 

 

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