Events Watch – Anna Crutchley, ARA Core Training – Freedom of Information

Events Watch enables new professionals to share their thoughts and learning outcomes from events they have recently attended (such as conferences and training) for the benefit of all new professionals.

This time Anna Crutchley shares her experiences at the ARA Core Skills Training course ‘An introduction to the Freedom of Information Act 2000’.

On 10 July 2013, I attended the very first of the new core skills training days being rolled out across the UK by the ARA – this particular one being on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and how to implement it in the workplace.

I have been in my job as an archivist for just one year, and hadn’t had to deal with any aspect of FOI until, coincidentally, the week before the training. Although we had covered FOI on my course the previous year, putting it into practice is a different thing to discussing it within the academic environment, and there is nothing more effective than learning about the day-to-day implementation of FOI ‘from the horse’s mouth’ in order to appreciate and understand it, and embed best practice.

The course is intended for those working in the public sector, and the speakers were Lynsey Aylmer – FOI Request Manager at The National Archives, Sue Markey – Senior Policy Officer at the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and David Jenkins – Corporate Records Manager at Derbyshire County Council.

Lynsey Aylmer started by describing her job at TNA where she manages a team of 9 people reviewing files for FOI. She bullet-pointed procedures that need to be put into action as soon as an FOI request is received, and went on to expand upon the practical issues of meeting regulatory demands within a variety of scenarios.

Sue Marky outlined the role of the ICO. Created in 1984, it is an independent regulatory office with the role of upholding information rights in the public interest and data privacy for individuals. It enforces and regulates the FOI and Data Protection Acts as well as Environmental Information and Privacy and Electronic Communications regulations. The ICO provides information and advises individuals and organisations, and adjudicates on complaints.

David Jenkins’ message is that FOI can be an effective driver in establishing records management practices within large organisations such as local government, and he described how Derbyshire CC managed the cultural changes across its workforce in order to meet FOI requirements. FOI is administered by champions within departments, and the positive effects have been to facilitate the location and retrieval of information, improve accountability and increase efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Lee Pretlove – ARA Training Officer and convenor, opened the afternoon session with a short quiz to reinforce the morning’s content (and I won’t be giving anything away if I recommend that those attending this event read up on the Act in advance if they wish to score points in the quiz).

At the end of the day, we were able to discuss the application of the Act in a panel session, and delegates presented various scenarios which they have had to manage. Sharing these experiences was very helpful and after the course I went home and read the Act again online, and this time more of it stuck.

The ARA core skills training days are being conducted nationwide, and the programme is available at http://www.archives.org.uk/training/core-training.html

Anna Crutchley, Archivist – Cambridge Assessment

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