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Award Winner Stories

Scotland's eCase Award Winners share their experience for better FOI

The eCase FOI Awards were launched at the end of 2022 to identify, highlight and celebrate public authority good practice across the UK. The judging panel for the awards included FOI specialists, campaigners and regulators (including the Scottish Information Commissioner), with award-winners announced at an event in Birmingham in February 2023.

We were delighted to see examples of the expertise and good practice of Scottish public bodies recognised, with Social Security Scotland’s Ally Aitchison winning the Rising Star Award, while Kate Webb from Marine Scotland was also highly commended in this category. The FOI Team from Social Security Scotland also found themselves highly commended in the Team of the Year category.

Below, staff from these two organisations share some of the good work they’ve been doing which has supported improvements in FOI practice and performance for their organisations. 

Have you got a story to tell about the work being done in another organisation? Contact us to let us know!

Social Security Scotland

Ally Aitchison, Niall Franchi and Joe Collins from Social Security Scotland share some of the work they've been doing to develop a positive, robust and responsive FOI culture in their organisation.

Social Security Scotland's story

"Social Security Scotland was established in September 2018. Since then we’ve been working to build robust, effective processes to respond to requests for information and to proactively publish information in the public interest. Our processes are scalable to meet increased demand and the growth in the information we hold. 

"As part of this journey we’ve identified some methods that work really well for us.

"For example, in support of our network of case handlers we created an end-to-end process guide as a reference for our case handlers to use as they deal with a request. This is intended to cover every aspect of case handling and is updated on an ongoing basis as case handlers share feedback on issues they have encountered. This isn’t intended as a replacement for training – more a recognition that our case handlers are drawn from other roles which are usually their primary focus, and time may pass between each request that they handle. 

"The process guide is something they can come back to each time to use as a reminder for each stage of the process. Feedback from colleagues on this has been extremely positive, especially from those colleagues who enjoy having a step-by-step process to work through.

"Another example is a series of “bitesize” masterclasses we have created for case handlers. These sessions are available to complement the onboarding sessions provided to all new case handlers to prepare them for their first cases. The masterclasses are short, focused looks at the finer detail of the legislation and aim to develop our case handlers’ knowledge and confidence with the legislation.

"Our approach to ongoing training has been to break it down to manageable half-hour chunks, delivered at times that are generally quieter in colleagues’ schedules, to cover individual topics over time. This gives us the opportunity to take something like an exemption and spend the time discussing how it applies in practice. These run on a rotating basis and there’s no pressure to attend if a colleague has a conflict in their schedule.

"We recognise handling requests can be challenging for the case handlers and ensure there is support in place for them. We monitor the progress of requests and provide advice on managing stakeholders, resource requirements and the interpretation and application of exemptions.

"Lastly, we’ve been working hard to develop a positive information rights culture in our organisation and regularly meet with Senior Managers and colleagues across the organisation to ensure everyone is aware of our obligations and the types of requests we are receiving.

"We are a learning organisation and feedback on our processes from our requester and case handlers is always welcome. We’re sure there will be many lessons to learn in the future and we look forward to hearing from other authorities about their experiences."

Ally Aitchison, Information Officer
Joe Collins, Information Officer

Niall Franchi, FOI Lead Practitioner

Marine Scotland

Kate Webb tells us about the work underway in Marine Scotland to improve and enhance their performance in response to requests under the FOI Act and the EIRs.

Marine Scotland's story

"Marine Scotland is a Directorate of the Scottish Government, and the majority of the information requests we receive are, unusually for the Scottish Government, covered under the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations (EIRs) rather than the FOI Act.

"We often receive sensitive, complex and voluminous requests which can consume a large amount of staff resources, especially within some of our smaller divisions. 

"In mid-2021 Marine Scotland began our FOI/EIR improvement journey, and the new role of FOI/EIR Adviser was created in November 2021 to support this project.

"A ‘hub and spoke’ model was adopted with the idea that the new advisory role would sit in the centre as the ‘hub’, and the ‘spokes’ would be dedicated case-handlers in a number of business areas, to improve capacity and resilience within each of the divisions. This would mean case handlers were both aware and confident in the legislation and administrative procedures of these requests, while trying to spread the burden of identifying the information (which can be very time-consuming) by putting more onus on the business areas themselves (‘the experts’) to search and collate any information for release.

"The project began with a survey to determine the areas where knowledge of FOI/EIR legislation and handling process was most in need of improvement, and prepare focussed actions to target key areas. This led to a three-pronged approach:

  • increase case handler support
  • improving training (especially focussed on the EIR legislation) 
  • supporting the implementation of the case handler model in selected divisions.

"Detailed guidance materials were developed (a step by step ‘Standard Operating Procedure’ for case handlers), and the FOI/EIR Adviser has worked with case-handlers to ensure these were easy to understand. This involved one-to-one training sessions with the new handlers and encouraging the development of a ‘buddy’ system within each area to ensure best practice was shared and support was available at all times.

"The ‘hub and spoke’ model has improved the quality of responses and led to a significant reduction in the number of reviews requested in the last 6 months.

"One of the project’s successful initiatives was the development of an existing ‘Teams’ channel which now has almost one hundred members, and allows anyone to post updates to request help. In addition, the FOI/EIR Adviser uses this tool to raise awareness of current issues and disseminate key learning points from recent cases.

"Weekly management reports for the Director’s office, summarising case status, and monthly ‘dashboard’ format reports for the Senior Leadership Team are also now prepared, which identify key challenges and successes over the period and improve awareness of the requests we get. This helps to monitor the response times and consequently target where help and/or extra support may be required."

Kate Webb, FOI/EIR Adviser
Marine Scotland


Find out more

If you'd like to find out more about work done by public bodies to improve their FOI performance, read the report from our Beat the FOI Clock workshop at the 2022 Holyrood FOI Conference.