Tuesday, February 27, 2018

OIA handling is getting worse

The Ombudsman and State Services Commission released the third lot of OIA and complaint statistics today. The data is scattered across several websites and spreadsheets, and for some reason they don't do a temporal comparison, which would be the most useful thing in telling us whether performance is getting better or worse. So I've done one - and the news isn't good.

First, the raw data: the overall volume of requests increased slightly, from 40,273 to 41,935 - an increase of 4%. Timeliness generally improved - an example of how a watched agency is an agency that actually does its job - and most core agencies are above the 90% mark where we want them to be. TPK is still the worst public service department, completing only 69.7% of requests on time, with MfE the second worst on 75.4% (a decrease from 77.9%, so they've actually got worse). For non-core agencies, its a similar story. Hawke's Bay DHB is still the shittest, with only 63.6% of requests completed on time - and the scary thing is that that's a massive improvement (last year it was less than 40%). Hopefully repeated publication of these stats and scrutiny on failing agencies will result in their doing better.

The complaint data tells a far more unsettling story. Its sliced differently - every six months rather than every year - and resolution data doesn't necessarily map to complaints received in the same period. But the headline is that complaint numbers are up, from 538 in the second half of 2016 to 673 in the same period in 2017. Insofar as you think complaints are any sort of proxy for the quality of decision-making, that's not good news. And when you look at the resolution data, and at the proportion of resolved complaints which resulted in a remedy, that's up too, from 56% to 65% in just 6 months. Since a remedy implies poor decision-making, that suggests strongly that OIA decisions actually got worse over the course of last year (I can't compare with late 2016, because it looks like the Ombudsman's Office changed what they were recording between the first and second set of statistics).

SSC has now started tracking complaints itself, with the number f complaints notified and final views against, and this should help us spot some trends in future years. But what we really need is UK-style statistics on outcomes, measuring whether a request resulted in release, release in part, or a refusal. Because that will help us identify problem agencies which aren't as open as they could or should be, who need their institutional cultures (and probably leadership) changed. Hopefully we'll start getting that next year.

Update: I've based my comments on timeliness and which departments are doing badly on the 2016/17 full year statistics. SSC has also released half-year stats for Jul - Dec 2017, aligning them with the Ombudsman's complaint data, which show a significant increase in timeliness. In particular, TPK and Hawke's bay DHB have significantly improved their performance, which is good to see.