Thursday, March 14, 2019

Juking the stats

The State Services Commission released its six-monthly OIA statistics yesterday, reporting basic information on volume and timeliness (but nothing on outcome or quality of response). But while the official press release crows about improved timeliness, there's a twist:

As signalled late last year, the non-Public Service departments subject to the Official Information Act, New Zealand Police and New Zealand Defence Force, are not included in the latest numbers. They are now reported separately to focus attention on the results of public service agencies and better reflect the Commissioner’s mandate.

And of course its just a pure coincidence that these are two of the largest and worst-performing agencies, the inclusion of which would have ruined SSC's narrative of ever-improving performance. Hell, the police are so crap that they couldn't even report timeliness for the last six months.

OIA statistics are an important performance metric: you can't manage what you can't measure. But they need to be honest. SSC's exclusion of two of the largest and worst-performing agencies means that that is simply not the case. Its another unpleasant example of how the government is trying to lie to us and pretend that the transparency status quo is fine and nothing needs to change.

Meanwhile, the Ombudsman has also released complaints data. Complaints have risen again, so I guess the Ombudsman was wrong in attributing the last increase to "the electoral cycle". The proportion of resolved complaints which resulted in a remedy - in other words, which found poor decision-making - continued to increase, from 66.2% to 73.3%. The other trend identified from the last stats - an increase in the proportion of complaints for full rather than partial refusals - has continued, suggesting even more strongly that agencies are meeting SSC's timeliness criteria by simply refusing requests to clear them off the books. The upshot: if your request is refused in full, complain. Public servants hate Ombudsman's investigations, so if you make it more work to refuse, then maybe you'll get them to obey the law.

(Analysis of the last batch of statistics is here).