The application period for this challenge is now closed

  • Governer Partner :City of Norfolk
  • Department :Public Relations
  • Category :CRM / application management, Digitization, Payments / Lending, Process Improvement

Project Summary

Improved data management platform for Freedom of Information Act requests.

Challenge Details

How might we improve our FOIA tracking, sorting, and response processes so that we are more successful at efficient use of resources, measuring our performance, providing information to our residents, and increased responsiveness and transparency?

We seek to create an online platform that will streamline our FOIA process and production, as well as provide greater transparency and usability for requesters. This platform should allow us to centralize the FOIA process – intake, dissemination to departments, records production and archiving, responses and invoicing should all be in one place. Internal users should be able to see at a glance what FOIA responses their departments are responsible for. External users should be able to see at a glance where their request is in the process, as well as to make online payments. Finally, we seek greater data tracking and ease of use to provide FOIA results to all residents on our website or our OpenData portal.

What is your department responsible for in relation to this challenge?
Our department processes 120 to 160 FOIAs per month with 1.5 staff members. We are required to produce responses against statutorily prescribed deadlines. We must collect the incoming requests, assign the records production to the responsible departments, compile those records, review for possible exemptions that would require withholding or redaction of records, and produce a response letter with the documents to the requester. We also bill for and collect any payments.

What is the current state of your process?
Our department currently takes in FOIA requests using a variety of tools including an online form, fax, phone calls and handwritten submissions. (By statute, we must accept FOIA requests in any form – although it is much easier to use an online version.) We use word documents and email to collect responses from departments. We use a free task management software to track deadlines and store responsive documents. We process 120 to 160 FOIAs per month with 1.5 staff members.
This process does not allow us to adequately track data on types of requests, requesters or response times. We can only accept payment by check or money order. We do not apprise requesters of progress on their records. We face significant hurdles in making our requests and records broadly available to the public because are unable to employ data collection practices that permit the separation of personal or exemptable data. Additionally, we do not have an adequate, automated means to send invoices, send overdue notices, flag requesters’ names for nonpayment. Finally, our current system requires significant duplication of effort – cutting and pasting information from one form to another. Our growing work volume requires that we find another way.

What pain points do your staff and/or residents experience?
We have an Open Data portal that has not yet produced any reduction in FOIA requests. We have a FOIA request system that forces us to cut and paste, even from electronic forms. We cannot adequately track the time various departments spend on compiling FOIA responses, nor can we accurately assess the true cost of this work, either in work hours or in materials.

We hope to achieve a centralized FOIA records system that will allow users a friendlier, more seamless experience to submit requests, receive records and pay for them. This system would allow internal users to easily submit their responsive records, and to see any application exemptions and redactions. It would allow us to automate many of the processes for which we currently cut and paste information amongst forms. It would allow us to use data to make better decisions about how we handle requests, how we identify datasets to include in the OpenData portal, and to become more efficient and speedy at response production. It will allow all of our responsive records to exist in a searchable online archive so we don’t submit the same requests for information repeatedly, and we can fulfill our state mandated data archiving guidelines. Finally, it will allow us to recoup more of the costs of FOIA production, provide ease of payment to users, and halt records production for requesters who have not paid.