Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Knowle relocation project >>> and rational ignorance

At the Cabinet meeting when the series of Freedom of Information requests facing the District Council was discussed, it was suggested  that:
> Warwickshire has no FOI requests because the local authority publishes everything; and
> Oxford has the highest number of FOI requests because the city is full of academics.
Audio recording for 15 July 2015 during Cabinet on 15 July 2015

It was also pointed out that individual FOI requesters could be charged:

There are many councils that seem unable to grasp the point of the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act.
It is supposed to be about transparency and accountability, in order to enhance democracy. Yet there are often cases where FoI requests are treated grudgingly, and some even charge the seekers of information.

A council that cannot come to terms with freedom of information | Media | The Guardian

In other words, the authorities really don't like the FOI act:
Futures Forum: The Freedom of Information Act and East Devon
Futures Forum: The Freedom of Information Act and East Devon >>> the story continues
Futures Forum: The Freedom of Information Act and East Devon  >>> challenging the "presumption in favour of releasing information" >>>

As made clear by the Local Government Association:

It's striking that the LGA decided not to highlight how freedom of information has held town halls to account by exposing waste and maladministration.
Scrutiny can now be as powerful outside the town hall as inside.
This attention is not always appreciated by officers and members. Local government receives more FOI requests than any other part of government – because the services provided are the ones closest to the general public. In the Ministry of Justice's memorandum to the justice select committee inquiry into the act, it argued: "At a time when all public authorities are required to do more with less, this consideration of the financial impact of FOIA on public authorities is pertinent."
Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair's chief of staff, regrets the introduction of freedom of information. "In retrospect, this was a mistake, not because secrecy is a virtue, but because policy making, like producing sausages, is not something that should be carried out in public," he has said.
It's a politics-first approach; hold debates behind closed doors so political groups can present a united front. In local government, this ignores the possibilities that opening up decision making to the public offers.
Local government must do more with less. In these circumstances opening up the decision-making process can only be a good thing. It's a pity that the LGA is framing the debate in such a misleading way.

It seems, then, that this District Council would prefer a different regime when it comes to managing information:

Especially as this District Council seems to believe that its Members are well-informed - although there have been mixed messages:

BBC presenter Simon Bates found District Coucillor Cllr Diviani to be 'a bit patronising' when he said that ordinary Councillors hadn't been able to get to grips with the 'masses and masses of documentation'.

Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: Councillors "in the dark, as no-one within the EDDC hierarchy was telling them anything."

This is what we call 'rational ignorance' - in that people (Councillors) are too busy with other things and can leave the decisions to others (the political leadership):

Rational ignorance occurs when the cost of educating oneself on an issue exceeds the potential benefit that the knowledge would provide.

... most political ignorance is inadvertent rather than rational... voters are ignorant because they believe our society “is a mighty simple place” and “think they have information adequate to [the] task.” They simply don’t realize there is lots of other information out there that could help them make better decisions.

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