Information Commissioner releases Community Attitudes Survey Results - Right to Know Week NSW 2020
The NSW Information Commissioner today released the results of the IPC Community Attitudes Survey 2020 on data sharing, information access and agency assistance.
The results of the IPC Community Attitudes 2020 survey provide a strong endorsement for data driven services with 72% of respondents agreeing that de-identified information should be used to inform planning and delivery of services provided by government agencies.
That result is coupled with an equally compelling case for accountability by government in using this data with 81% of respondents agreeing that agencies should publicly report on the information they maintain.
The results of the survey also confirm that Governments use of technology to provide efficient services and to inform decision-making must be accompanied by the duty to remain accountable with 78% of respondents agreeing that agencies should publicly report on the use of machine learning/artificial intelligence during decision-making.
The survey results provide a compelling case for ‘future proofing information access rights’.
Overall, 88% felt that their right to access government information was important.
The great majority felt that it was important for the public to have access to data that was held by government agencies to support ‘Transparent decision making’ (91%) and ‘accountable decision making’ (92%).
Awareness of information access rights has risen slightly since 2018, with over half (59%) of respondents knowing of their right to access information and most respondents intended to contact the agency involved in order to access information. In total 37% would use technology, either via a search or going to the agency’s website. However, 19% were unsure of what they would do if they wanted to access information.
These findings are a signal to agencies that the community is aware of their rights and will contact the agency for the information. Agencies are expected to have readily available information on government services on their websites.
On par with 2018, most respondents were at least partially successful in attempting to access information from local councils, state government departments and universities.
- The highest rate of release came from the University sector with 81% of respondents saying that they received all or some of the information requested.
- The highest rate of refusal indicated by respondents was for ‘Ministers and staff” with 50% indicating that they did not receive any information that they had requested.
- 74% of those who had attempted to access information were successful in at least one instance. This figure was similar to 2018 where 76% indicated that they were successful in at least one attempt.
- Comparing 2014, 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2020 there is a downward trend in respondents indicating that they were successful in at least one instance of requesting information.
The community are most often seeking information from departments and local councils and are generally successful in accessing the information, but more assistance would assist.
In 2019, Information Commissioners throughout Australia and led by NSW, undertook a cross jurisdictional study of community attitudes to access to government information, as part of Australia’s Open Government National Action Plan 2018–2020. Through the study it was found that in NSW, 89% of citizens believed the right to access information as important 77% of citizens were aware of right to access information and 77% had success in accessing information.
Importantly, in NSW 60% of citizens advised that agencies had been helpful in assisting them to access information. This insight confirmed that the majority of agencies are fulfilling their responsibility to provide advice and assistance to citizens attempting to gain access to information.
Through the 2020 Community Attitudes survey, the IPC was able to further examine how agencies were providing assistance and identify the elements of that assistance to better understand what agencies were doing in servicing citizens well and identifying where there are areas for improvement.
The survey found that agencies were most effective in providing advice and assistance to citizens when they:
- outlined the different ways information could be accessed (36%)
- helped clarify the information sought (32%)
- explained the process to obtain information by formal access application (28%)
- followed up the engagement in writing (28%)
- provided advice about who or what other agency to contact, including how to transfer the application when the information was not held by the agency (25%).
These results were confirmed in the survey in response to the question: How could agencies have improved the assistance?
- 41% said that the agency could have explained the processes available to obtain information
- 40% said the agency could have provided advice about how to access or seek access to information
- 29% said that the agency could have referred them to the agency’s website to obtain information
- 27% said the agency could have told them what agency to go to obtain the information or helped with the transfer of the application
- 25% said the agency could have talked to them about their request to access information
- 22% said the agency could have told them how to get information about their information access rights
- 18% said the agency could have provided them with an application form to seek access to information.
These results provide valuable insights to both agencies and citizens. Importantly they demonstrate that to be effective in providing advice and assistance agencies need to provide:
- advice about the different ways information can be accessed such as websites, documentation and data
- an explanation about how to obtain information using the four access pathways and
- where relevant transferring the request to a different agency that holds the information.
The research reinforces that easy to navigate, comprehensive websites are critical way to support access, especially for open access information.
The IPC has created a framework to encourage agencies to structure their information access webpages in a way that is open and transparent, uniform across agencies, provides key contacts for accessing information, and clearly sets out the rights of citizens and obligations of agencies via the four access pathways under the GIPA Act.
The IPC is working with DCS on the website consolidation of NSW agency information access pages as part of digital transformation of service in NSW government to ensure that there is clear information about the types of information held by each agency and the different ways in which that information can be accessed. This initiative will provide tangible benefits to both citizens and agencies.
Read the full results of the study here.
As government increasingly adopts technology it has a duty to implement administrative practices that safeguard the legislated commitment to open government and the fundamental right of access to information.
This necessitates adopting existing practices to the digital environment to future proof the right to access information. Adoption and implementation of measures that provide administrative mechanisms to complement increasing reliance upon digital and other forms of service delivery by government include:
- procurement standards and elevated contractual arrangements
- inventories of machine enhanced decision-making systems and databases
- certification and attestation requirements in relation to information access searches and the imposition of processing charges.
The Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 secures the right to access government information in all forms. It mandates the proactive release of information and importantly requires agencies to:
- Provide advice and assistance to citizens seeking information
- Ensure that any documents that are likely to affect rights, privileges, benefits, obligations, penalties or any other entitlement or liability that affects citizens is disclosed as open access information
- Ensure that a description of the ways in which functions, including decision-making functions are exercised are publicly available as open access information 
- Proactively identify the kinds of information (including data) held and describe how that information can be accesses
- Ensure that government contracts provide an immediate right of access to information held by the third-party contractor
These provisions respond to digital government and will, if faithfully applied ensure that the right to access information is future proof.