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PRA End of the Year Survey: requests getting more complex

Brenda Dodd
Feb 20, 2020 12:01:00 AM

In my previous blogs about our end of the year survey*, I reported on the increase in records requests and the reasons the respondents of our survey see for this growth. Rising interest in government transparency and growing awareness of citizen’s rights are named as important drivers for the growth in requests received. Interestingly enough, commercial and personal gain are also named as a reason to issue an open records request.

In this blog, I will dive into the findings that deal with the management of the open records process and what the respondents are seeing as factors which affect their ability to adequately meet their obligations.

We now live in an era of digital communication so it came as no surprise to me that the complexity of the requests has become a significant factor in the landscape of information requests. Long gone are the days of going to a filing cabinet and locating responsive documents. Today, public records can be in email accounts, on smart phones,  inmessaging and social media apps or in video format. 

These complex requests typically seek a high volume of material or require additional steps to process such as the need to search for records in multiple locations. Complex requests often take longer to process than more targeted “simple” requests.

At the federal level, the average processing time for simple track requests for agencies that reported data in this field in their FY 2018 Annual FOIA Report was 25.52 days.  Where as complex requests was upward of 100 or more days.

More sources, increase in complexity

In our survey, respondents also report an increase in the complexity of the requests. Mostly because of the content and context of the requests, but also because more information from multiple sources is requested.

539_PRA survey_complexity increase

The number of requests received does not have much effect on the observation that the complexity is increasing. Of the organizations that receive less than hundred requests a year, 58 percent of the respondents indicate they see a difference in the complexity of the requests being made. With organizations that receive more requests (>100 a year) this is 67%.

540_PRA survey_complexity variation

Here also, commercial intentions are named as reason for the increase in complexity. One respondent states “There is a disconnect between elected officials, government programs to meet the needs and the people and actions taken by forth branch of government impacting the citizens.”

If you want to receive all stats, you can follow this link to download the full info-graphic with all survey results. In this webinar, Christine Wood, Director of PRA Services and E-Discovery Counsel at Best Best & Krieger shares practical tips on how to deal with Public Records Requests that encompass information from sources like social media accounts, personal emails, body cams, audio and video recordings, photos, smartphones and other wearable and mobile devices.

Or contact me to schedule a demo and I will show you how to respond to public disclosure requests in an efficient and timely manner In the next blog, we will discuss the difference in complexity of managing public disclosure requests.

* The outcome of this survey is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as (legal) advice on any subject matter. ZyLAB expressly disclaims all liability in respect to actions taken or not taken based on any or all the outcomes of this survey.

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