Claude Monet - The Magpie (1868-69)
Claude Monet, The Magpie (1868-1869)

As autumn turns to winter, and the current year gives way to the new, there is no better time to think about transition.

For Freedom of Information (FOI) professionals, transition comes in many forms. Some FOI professionals may be just starting their career, or may be assuming responsibility for their institution’s FOI files for the first time. Others may be transitioning between institutions, leaving behind files in progress while taking on a portfolio of new requests and new processes in a new workplace. And some FOI professionals may be transitioning out of FOI completely, perhaps into retirement, or into a different role where FOI is left behind.

Whenever professionals leave a role, by necessity, they leave behind their ongoing matters. It is natural to feel concern about the condition of the files they are leaving, and whether a new professional will be able to readily continue their work based on the systems and records awaiting them.

When leaving a workplace, whether for retirement, a new professional opportunity, or a change of circumstances, one thing every FOI professional has in common is the desire to leave their previous work environment in the best possible condition so that a new professional can assume responsibility for the work left behind with as little difficulty as possible.

No two institutions have exactly the same process for responding to Freedom of Information requests. The FOI Manual offers suggestions and tips, but it is not prescriptive. An FOI professional assuming carriage of someone else’s FOI requests will always need someone to show them where files are kept and how things are done.

And FOI professionals may be surprised by the many different ways institutions process FOI requests—depending on your institution, the process may or may not involve: FOI software, paper calendars, sticky notes, workbooks, diaries, opening and closing worksheets, paper files, manilla folders, filing cabinets, Excel spreadsheets, file servers, flowcharts, Sharepoint, USB sticks, reference cards, redaction tape, Adobe Professional, annotated Acts, scanners, photocopiers, coloured tabs, coloured markers, coloured pens, delegations of authority, approvals, sign-offs, emails, paper letters, letterhead, tickler systems, online submissions systems, cheque processing, credit card payments and a variety of other tools and processes that FOI professionals often use or encounter.

How will your institution handle transitions? When one FOI professional exits, will the new professional have an opportunity for knowledge transfer? Will there be sufficient overlap between the arrival of the new professional and the departure of the previous one? And of course, in some cases, there may be no opportunity for overlap, such as unplanned leaves of absence, departures for a new role on short notice, or even termination.

The FOI Assist software

Perhaps the best step you can take to ensure such transitions go smoothly is to use the FOI Assist software. Using the FOI Assist software gives your institution a consistent process for handing all of its FOI requests. Files are kept organized by the system, fees and deadlines are all tracked, and a file history for each request is maintained automatically. All of this significantly reduces “special processes” and other eccentricities that an employee must otherwise learn when stepping into a new FOI role.

The FOI Assist software provides an inventory of all of your FOI requests and their deadlines

Similarly, the FOI Assist software makes it far easier for a manager to temporarily assume the role of their employee, and for one FOI professional to cover for another. Using the FOI Assist software, every file is kept up-to-date and you avoid having unfiled or loose materials floating around. And because it runs in the cloud, the FOI Assist software makes working and collaborating from different locations easy and effective.

The top of a file’s history in FOI Assist showing the most recent event

The FOI Assist software also maintains a complete file history of all of your requests, making it easy for a new professional to quickly understand the background and status of each request.

Showing which steps have been completed and which step is recommended next

And as shown above, the FOI Assist software makes it easy to know what steps have already been performed, and suggests sensible next steps as well.

What is your institution’s plan when change comes to your FOI team?

As an FOI professional, are you satisfied with what you will be leaving behind for others?

Are you ready for transition?

For more information on the FOI Assist software, view the official FOI Assist website and the release announcement, or better yet, contact me directly.

It has been a extraordinary year for FOI Assist and I have little doubt more great things are in store for the year ahead.

I am thankful for the significant number of provincial and municipal institutions in Ontario who have chosen the FOI Assist software to help them manage their FOI process. I get great satisfaction hearing how the FOI Assist software has helped institutions stay organized, kept them in control of their FOI process, and for FOI professionals, improved their quality of work and their quality of life.

Thank you for using the FOI Assist software, and for reading and following the FOI Assist Knowledge Base.

As I know this article will reach many of you, I want to sign off for the year by wishing each of you…

Happy Holidays

And all the best to you and yours in the year ahead!

Justin Petrillo

London, Ontario

December 22, 2022

Published by Justin Petrillo

I have created the FOI Assist™ software to help Ontario’s provincial and municipal government institutions of all sizes track and respond to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. For most of my career I have been a lawyer, advising clients on commercial, intellectual property and FOI/privacy issues. From 2013 to 2015, I managed the FOI program for the Toronto 2015 Pan/Parapan Am Games Organizing Committee while serving as Legal Counsel to the Games. Prior to becoming a lawyer, I obtained a computer science degree and worked as a software developer at several well-known technology companies.

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