The Freedom of Information Act (2000) allows individuals to request information from public organisations and authorities.
Anyone can request information from public bodies or organisations such as the Police, Publicly owned companies, hospitals and schools requests are normally free, except in unusual circumstances, for example when some type of additional work or resources may be required to complete a request – for example for photocopying or accessing certain databases.
Although it is free for the person making the request, you will be using public money and resources when it comes to getting an individual to find and compile a report for your request. So please think carefully before submitting a request.
Statistics are fantastic for online marketing campaigns. Interesting and insightful campaigns that contain statistics are highly likely to generate links, which will, in turn, benefits your website’s rankings or Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).
Can you provide authoritative insights? For example, if you are researching politics, or sports nutrition, for example, do you have an expert on politics or nutrition that could provide insightful comments? If not, could you find one?
Ideas for Freedom of Information Requests & Marketing Campaigns
- Security Firms could develop campaigns based on statistics related to break-ins
- A wellbeing or wellness company could request statistics related to stress-related-illnesses
- A fitness business could request information about different Police & Military Fitness tests and use the data to compare and contrast the fitness requirements
Another good way to get ideas for data requests is to look at the complete list of government bodies. You can search using keywords or just scroll through, this is often to generate some campaign and data request ideas.
There is a fantastic website called What do They Know; that lets you search previous freedom of information requests. So it may be possible to build a marketing campaign around a request that somebody else has made. Just use the search box to enter a relevant term or keyword and then click ‘requests’.
How to Make a Freedom of Information Request
There are plenty of templates online. You will need to find the name and email address or postal address of the public authority that will likely have the data. Give your real name and your email address, so that they can back to you.
Make your request as specific as possible. There is a limit of £450 relating to the time taken collating the information you are requesting, so make it clear what you want.
Finding contact information can be a little tricky. It is normally best to go directly to the government body’s website and search for “FOI” or “Freedom of Information” on the homepage. If the body does not have its specific website, then you may have to go to the local council’s website instead.
You will usually get back and acknowledgement and a reference number within a few weeks. If you don’t, it can be worth following up again. It can take up to 20 working days for them to respond – normally they will use the full 20 days.
- Keep the request as short as possible
- If you have several questions/requests then number them
- Include your full name
- Include your email address
The website WhatDoTheyKnow.com has examples of many successful requests, for example, this one regarding healthcare.
If you do not receive a response within 20 working days (remember working-days, so weekends and bank holidays won’t count), then it might be a good idea to follow up. You have the right to follow up and ask them to do an internal review. This gives them another 20 working days to respond. Be aware that there are many exemptions to freedom of information request, for example, if the information may breach some kind of security protocol, then a request can be legitimately denied.
If you are still no happy with the response that you receive, then you can contact the Information Commissioners Office. Their website is very comprehensive and easy to use, but you can use their live chat service if you get stuck.
Also, if you receive a reply, but then have further questions – you can submit a further request for information.
What to do with the Data
Can you turn your data into a story? Start with brainstorming potential headlines and take it from there.
Once you have a response from the public authority, it is often a good idea to present the data in a visual format, that is easy for people to interpret.
The use of different charts and all major facts and figures amalgamated into an infographic can work well. If you don’t have a graphic designer inhouse, you can always look to create an in-depth blog post instead, making use of headers and bullet points to make the post more digestible – like this post by Moneypenny.
It can also help if you can get a comment and a quote of an MP, or a relevant person or group. For example, a leading local businessperson may be able to provide an insightful quote about how remote working may impact the economy moving into 2021 and beyond.
They Work For You
Another great website, run by MySociety, the same people What Do They Know, is TheyWorkForYou.com
It is a parliamentary monitoring website that makes it easier for UK citizens to see what is being discussed on their behalf at Westminster.
You can also search for politicians discussing anything related to your campaign. You can get in touch with politicians via the website and even ask for statistics and data that you have gathered to be mention in parliament.
The Data is Not Exclusively Yours
As the name suggests, a freedom of information request relates to public data. The body that provides you with the information has the right to publish it on its platform.
There is not a lot that you can do about this, but you can still provide additional value if you reformat the data into graphics and gain insightful comments from relevant authoritative individuals.
Ideally, you will have an in-house PR team or a PR agency that will help you to promote your campaign. You can look to find journalists on Twitter. Search for individual journalists, follow them and keep an eye on what type of information they are looking for. You can also use platforms such as HARO to build relationships and outreach to journalists.