Ben Worthy

This chapter examines how the same complex dynamics that shape FOI formulation continue after the passage of legislation. This chapter looks across the country cases, beginning with the UK, to see how FOI interacts with its wider environment and new ideas around openness (Posen 2013). It examines thematically the role of various, sometimes competing and contradictory, influences on the legislation post-implementation: including high profile scandal Lock-in of FOI legislation with the gradual ‘normalising’ of openness systems within bureaucracies over time, assisted by the integration of independent appeal bodies, helping to entrench FOI within systems as an ‘everyday’ activity (Hazell and Worthy 2010: Kimball 2012). It looks at attempts to strengthen FOI and attempts to weaken FOI. The chapter ends by mapping out the complex dynamics and pattern of post –implementation FOI. It examining what groups (government factions, users, media) and what events, both real and symbolic, (crisis, electoral victory, reform programmes) can help trigger the different dynamics and how they can change (Hillebrandt, Curtin and Meijer 2012).

in The politics of freedom of information
Abstract only
Why do governments pass FOI laws?
Ben Worthy

The chapter maps out the competing dynamics of transparency reform, a policy with symbolic power that traps governments while becoming a site of contestation. In many countries FOI ‘survives’ because of its symbolism and attempted retrenchment is tempered by a combination of internal support and Parliamentary and media pressure. This double pressure of symbolism and support makes the policy difficult to drop, even for powerful leaders like Tony Blair or Lyndon Johnson. Yet the lack of public interest means it is symbolic but fragile and is fought over at the level of detail and, frequently, diluted.

The chapter ends by looking at the future of transparency policy and whether evolving new Open Data policies will strengthens FOI or simply relocates the transparency struggle. Technological changes have had a profound impact on openness (Curtin and Meijer 2006). However, the new Open Data reforms face similar obstacles and display similar patterns to that of FOI: small groups of committed supporters, bureaucratic division and lack of clarity about detail and aims underneath a ‘symbolic’ potential (Peled 2011: Yu and Harlan 2012: Worthy 2013). New ‘Open Data’ reforms look set to continue the same difficulties rather than solve them.

in The politics of freedom of information