Lidberg Index allows FOI comparison in real time

Until now, there’s been no way to adequately rank how nations perform internally on Freedom Of Information requests, or internationally compared to other countries. West Australian CLA member Dr Johan Lidberg’s world’s first FOI Index, now in development with UNESCO support, will allow direct comparisons in real time.

First international FOI index to compare
countries’ accountability rating

By Dr Johan Lidberg of Murdoch University, WA

During the past five years I have developed a tool that can be used to evaluate how well Freedom of Information (FOI) systems work in practice.

During the past five years I have developed a tool that can be used to evaluate how well Freedom of Information (FOI) systems work in practice.

The instrument comprises three sub-studies:

The promise evaluates what a national FOI law promises to deliver.

The attitudes charts the attitudes held by the administrators of FOI (national Ministers and the top public servant in each department).

The practice recruits nine journalists in each country of study and maps and evaluates the FOI requests they submit as part of the study.

The data from each study is coded and eventually collapsed and presented in an International Freedom of Information Index. Each country receives a score from 0.0 to 10.0. To complement the index score a qualitative analysis of each country is part of the evaluation1.

It’s now time to expand the FOI Index to, ultimately, cover all nations with an FOI system, including the European Union.

A research consortium has been built consisting of the following partners: Professor Lars Nord, Mid Sweden University, Sweden, Professor Charles Davis, University of Colombia Missouri, USA, Dr, Mr Richard de Zoysa, Southbank University, London and Ms Helen Darbishire, Access Info, Spain.

The FOI Index will be presented as a dynamic website that will also function as a resource for FOI users. UNESCO is endorsing the project and has agreed to host the FOI Index website in conjunction with the participating institutions.

This project is unique in three respects:

Firstly, it is the first study to systematically track real-life FOI requests on an internationally comparative basis.

Secondly, it is the first study to include an evaluation of the level of protection for media whistleblowers and the journalists they choose to work with as part of the overall FOI system.

Thirdly, it will create the first International Freedom of Information Index.

Such an index is useful in a number of ways:

  • It evaluates the FOI regimes in individual countries and can potentially provide incentives for nations to strive for increased functionality in their FOI systems.
  • It can serve as an indicator of how ‘serious’ individual countries are regarding one of the fundamental principles of representative democracy in practice: political accountability.
  • The Index will highlight the situation for media whistle blowers in each country of study.
  • The Index will serve as a guide to international users of FOI, such as investigative journalists.

From a more general perspective the Index could potentially become a potent tool in the quest for increased international transparency, which arguably would fill a very important role in the age of the ‘War on Terror’.

[1] The prototype index was trialled in a pilot study that included The US, Sweden, Australia, South Africa and Thailand. The result is presented in a PhD thesis available at: http://www.lib.murdoch.edu.au/adt/browse/view/adt-MU20070115.121829.

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