The Department of Conservation and the Official information Act

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The Ombudsman embarked on a practice review of the Department of Conservation, which helped the Department improve its engagement with the Official Information Act. 

© Office of the Ombudsman, 2019.

My name is Lucy Alcock. I’m the Director of Government Services with the Department of Conservation.

Some time ago the Ombudsman came to visit the Department and he said he’d be conducting an investigation into a number of different agencies. In particular he’d noticed that the environment was of increasing importance to New Zealanders, and as his role is like a sort of cornerstone of democracy, he was curious to know how a number of agencies were engaging with the public with the openness and transparency of their information, obviously applying the Official Information Act. So he embarked on what’s called a practice review of the Department.

The investigation had a lot of different aspects to it. It had for example a formal survey for the Department to fill out formally about how it responded to OIAs. Then there were a number of interviews of with specific people in the department, like media would be one, policy, the people who do the official information act coordination, leadership....

It was actually interesting, because it gave everybody a bit of time to reflect on this and so, in fact, even having the investigation enhanced the profile of this work a lot within the Department.

So we will be doing reporting to the Ombudsman on how we are responding to the report. For example one thing is to have more training around the Official Information Act and we are certainly stepping into that space. Another thing is to have better guidance on our intranet.

The response times are tracking up, and the investigation would certainly have supported that. So it’s a fairly open and good relationship that we have with the office. They are very helpful. They are there very much to assist and be responsive.

In a way it’s a rare opportunity getting someone to look at your agency's work with this amount of integrity and thoroughness I suppose. You couldn’t pay a consultant to do this if you like, and it’s a real moment of truth, from which you can go forward and create new programmes and new ways of doing work.

 

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