With Halloween just around the corner, I thought this would be a good time to talk about one of the scariest subjects in FOI: The Year-End Statistical Report.
In Ontario, provincial and municipal institutions who respond to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests under either the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) or the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA) are required to submit statistics about their FOI program to the the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario (IPCO) on an annual basis. The IPCO uses these submissions to prepare its annual report to the public.
Unfortunately, the information IPCO asks each institution to provide is quite detailed, and preparing the report can be labour-intensive. Institutions are required to carefully review each FOI file they have processed in the preceding year and prepare a number of metrics that the IPCO considers important, including the type of requestor who made each request, how long each request took to answer, and what specific exemptions were applied to any information withheld.
Many institutions fall into the trap of reviewing each FOI file from the past year “from scratch” trying to piece together what happened, who the request came from, how long it took to answer, whether extensions were issued, and all of the other information required for the annual report. In many cases, the person preparing the report to IPCO will be unable to remember much about FOI files that may have closed nearly a year ago. The files themselves may go missing or be incomplete. And sometimes, the professional tasked with preparing the report is not the same professional who processed some of the requests being reviewed.
It is not uncommon for some institutions to take two weeks or more to prepare this report each year, diverting valuable FOI professional time away from processing incoming requests and other responsibilities.
But there is a better way. Rather than review each file “from scratch” trying to piece together each file’s history months later, it is much more effective to use a “File Opening/Closing Worksheet” to track the required information while the file is active and fresh in the minds of the FOI professional responsible for it. By taking just a minute or two when opening a file, and then a few short minutes when closing a file, all of the information needed for the annual statistical report can be recorded in one easy-to-find place. By using a “File Opening/Closing Sheet”, the workload involved in preparing the annual statistical report to the IPCO is not only significantly reduced, it is also spread out throughout the year, putting an end to all that “frightening” anticipation about setting aside enough time to get the annual statistical report completed.
For the benefit of institutions who would like to try using this method to make their annual statistical reporting process much easier, I have created a free File Opening and Closing Worksheet you can use.
There is one version for institutions under FIPPA, and another for institutions under MFIPPA:
There is no need to wait until the new year to get started; you can start with your very next FOI request, and you will at least save yourself the time of having to look back through some of this year’s files when you prepare the next statistical report. Additionally, by getting started now, you can get ready to make a “clean start” in the new year, using a File Opening and Closing Worksheet for each file in 2020 and beyond.
I recommend printing a number of these and having them ready for when your next FOI request arrives. If possible, print the worksheet double-sided. Each file’s worksheet can be kept with the FOI file itself, but you may find it even more effective to keep completed worksheets for closed files (or at least a copy) in a folder or binder of their own. There is no need to review the actual FOI file itself directly to prepare the year-end statistical report if the worksheet has been completed.
I hope Ontario’s provincial and municipal FOI professionals find this worksheet helpful. Please feel free to share it with others, and to print and use it as you see fit. And if you have any questions about how to use the worksheet, please feel free to comment below, or to contact me directly.
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Links to Resources:
Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/90f31
Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA) https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/90m56
Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Manual https://www.ontario.ca/document/freedom-information-and-protection-privacy-manual
Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario (IPCO) Annual Statistical Reporting and Supporting PDF Materials https://www.ipc.on.ca/access/statistical-reporting/annual-statistical-reporting-and-supporting-pdf-materials/