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Title Freedom of information field experiment in the Netherlands: replication and extension
Post date 10/12/2017
C1 Background and Explanation of Rationale

Transparency has become a core principle of good governance (Hood & Heald 2006) and is expected to bring various positive effects, such as greater accountability, increased trust and less corruption (Meijer 2014). One important potential mechanism to force governments to become more transparent is requesting information through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and the number of FOI laws implemented worldwide is has increased greatly (e.g. Relly and Sabharwal 2009). But how effective is such a mechanism?
In a recent field experiment with local governments, Worthy, John and Vannoni found that indeed FOI requests are more effective than simple asks. FOI requests are more effective in encouraging bodies to do more than the law asks (concordance) than encouraging more minimal levels of legal cooperation (compliance). The experiment was conducted on a sample of 4300 parish councils (the lowest local level in the United Kingdom). Parish councils were requested for information for the organizational chart of the parish council. Furthermore, authorities were asked to go ‘beyond’ what is legally required and publish the information publically, to assess whether FOI can help lead to greater pro-active openness.
The first aim is to replicate the Worthy et al. experiment in the Netherlands, for three reasons. First, initial findings may have occurred simply by chance and replications may serve as a way to decrease “false positives” (Ioannidis 2005). Secondly, replication in the social sciences is needed to further determine contextual conditions of the effect (Jilke et al. 2016). Thus to assess the external validity and boundary conditions of Worthy et al.’s findings it is important to investigate FOI in a different context. The Netherlands has a much longer tradition with FOI legislation (1980 in the Netherlands vs 2005 in the UK) and supposedly a less adversarial media culture. Will the findings on the effectiveness of FOI in the original experiment also hold in this different context? Third and finally, the Netherlands has seen very little FOI research and is as such an interesting case to investigate.
The second aim is to push the boundaries of our knowledges on whether FOI can create effective transparency by request politically sensitive information. Where the original experiment ‘just’ asked for somewhat mundane information, an organizational chart, true transparency goes beyond that and becomes relevant when a topic is matter politically.

C2 What are the hypotheses to be tested?

Hypothesis 1: Local authorities will be more responsive to an FOI request than to an informal ask.
Hypothesis 2: Local authorities with larger population sizes will be more responsive than smaller authorities
Hypothesis 3: Local authorities will be more responsive to a request for the organizational chart than to the one for councilors’ expenses

C3 How will these hypotheses be tested? *

We adopt the two main hypotheses from Worthy et al., omit one hypothesis that was not supported and add one novel hypothesis to test the effect of an FOI request for sensitive information on government responsiveness.
The outcome variable consists of the five ordinal categories shown below. First of all, we analyse the variance between the mean of the dependent variable (DV) across the two treatments and control groups (ANOVA). Secondly, we will also take into consideration the control variables mentioned above by carrying out an ordinal outcome variable regression analysis.
0: No reply [no compliance]
1: Reply, but does not provide the organization chart or any detailed information [lesser compliance]
2: Link or background [partial compliance]
3: Send information [full compliance]
4: Make information public, information was send and explicitly stated the intent to publish it in the public domain as a result of our request [concordance]

C4 Country Netherlands
C5 Scale (# of Units) 390
C6 Was a power analysis conducted prior to data collection? Yes
C7 Has this research received Insitutional Review Board (IRB) or ethics committee approval? Yes
C8 IRB Number -
C9 Date of IRB Approval August, 31, 2017
C10 Will the intervention be implemented by the researcher or a third party? Researchers
C11 Did any of the research team receive remuneration from the implementing agency for taking part in this research? No
C12 If relevant, is there an advance agreement with the implementation group that all results can be published? not provided by authors
C13 JEL Classification(s) H83