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Title Information requests and local accountability: an experimental analysis of local parish responses to an informational campaign
Post date 05/26/2015
C1 Background and Explanation of Rationale

"Transparency has become a central tenet of what constitutes good governance (Hood 2010). It is also now a key part of citizens’ democratic expectations and rights, increasingly enforced by national and international legislation and legal rulings (Darch and Underwood 2010). Not only is transparency now viewed as desirable in and of itself, it is also expected to bring about a series of benefits, including greater accountability, increased trust and better decision-making while also acting as deterrent to corruption (Hazell et al 2010; Meijer 2014). There are a growing number of transparency mechanisms available to governments to help public authorities reach an acceptable standard of information provision. These can be embedded within the formal frameworks governing how public authorities operate, such as the rules of disclosure on meeting minutes, or driven by the ethical stance of public officials or the more political wish to have their actions recorded for public debate and scrutiny. Such ideas have influenced studies of accountability and responsiveness in a variety of settings (Ferraz and Finan 2011).
Regulations include direct or general transparency mechanisms, such as registers of interests and Freedom of Information legislation (also known as Access to Information or Right to Information legislation), to more ‘targeted’ specific instruments such as lobbying transparency rules or technology-led experiments such as Open Data (Fung and Weil 2010). Mechanisms can be based on the principle of pro-active publication (of for example meeting minutes or spending) or reactive response to requests from users. Some transparency regulations combine both these features. In the UK, Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation sits alongside legislation regulating access to meetings, environmental information disclosure and now a broad array of online data published as part of the UK’s Open Data initiative (Cabinet Office 2013).
This experiment aims to see if FOI requests can be used to stimulate pro-active publication and whether transparency leads, as supporters hope, to increased transparency or triggers resistance or inertia. We report the plan of an intervention that evaluates the impact of FOI requests on the smallest unit of local democracy in England, the local parish, compared to a ‘everyday’ non-legal information request and a control. We plan to observe whether an FOI request causes the parish to respond more frequently than a simple (non-legally binding) information request or ask.
We use an experimental design to test whether and to what extent local governments are more responsive to an FOI request than to a normal request of information by asking for information via an FOI request and an informal ‘ask’ . The experiment is conducted on a sample of 4400 parish councils, which will be subject to two measures. The first measure is a request for information for the organizational chart of the parish council and the second is a request for councillors’ expenses. By asking authorities to go ‘beyond’ what is legally required and publish the information publically, we can also gain some insight into whether FOI can help lead to greater pro-active openness. We will later send a brief questionnaire to participants asking about their views of openness and FOI to gain some qualitative insights into why the experiment worked in the way it did."

C2 What are the hypotheses to be tested?

"Hypothesis 1: Local authorities will be more responsive to an FOI request than to a normal request
Hypothesis 2: Local authorities will be more responsive to a request for the organizational chart than to the one for councilors’ expenses
Hypothesis 3: Local authorities with an FOI publication scheme or with published budgets and minutes or larger in terms of population will be more responsive"

C3 How will these hypotheses be tested? *

The outcome variable consists of the five ordinal categories shown above. 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.

C4 Country
C5 Scale (# of Units) not provided by authors
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 not provided by authors
C9 Date of IRB Approval not provided by authors
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? No
C13 JEL Classification(s) not provided by authors