OIA compliance and practice in Accident Compensation Corporation
This report was released as part of ‘Ready or not?’, an investigation into OIA practices at 12 core agencies.
'Ready or not?' is a follow-up to 'Not a game of hide and seek', an investigation published by former Chief Ombudsman Beverley Wakem in 2015.
From the executive summary
This summary draws together the key findings and suggested actions from my investigation.
Leadership and Culture
I consider that ACC’s senior leaders value transparency and are driving a more open culture. This is reflected in ACC’s external messaging to the public on the OIA webpage and in corporate documents.
Although ACC provided examples of internal messaging to staff that fosters the spirit of the OIA (in conjunction with openness and transparency), over a third of respondents in the initial staff survey said the former Chief Executive was silent on the OIA or they did not know what signals were being sent. Therefore, I encourage the current Chief Executive and senior leaders to ensure ongoing internal messaging is provided to staff about the importance of the OIA and openness more generally. This will ensure the spirit of the legislation stays front of mind for staff, and that the percentage of staff who view their senior leaders as strongly or moderately pro-disclosure will continue to grow.
ACC has an excellent OIA webpage. Not only is it easy to access and use, but it includes helpful information for requesters. Through the course of this investigation, I identified opportunities for ACC to improve its OIA webpage by including additional information, such as my Office’s contact details, and advice that, where requested, OIA responses can be provided in alternate formats. ACC promptly effected these changes after receiving my provisional opinion. There is still an opportunity for ACC to expand on the description of information held in the Directory of Official Information and on the OIA webpage.
ACC plans to publish its internal decision making rules (as described in section 22 of the OIA). Once published, they should be linked to the OIA webpage. ACC should also publish details of its approach to internal decision making on OIA requests.
Actions points: Leadership and culture
- Ensure ongoing messaging from senior leaders to staff about the importance of the OIA, and openness more generally
- Expand on the description of information held by ACC in the Directory of Official Information and on the OIA webpage
- Following the publication of ACC’s internal decision making rules (described in section 22 of the OIA) on its website, include a link on the OIA webpage, and also publish details of ACC’s approach to internal decision making on OIA requests on the OIA webpage
Organisation structure, staffing and capability
ACC uses a centralised OIA model, and OIA requests are handled by the OIA Services team. Overall, ACC appears to have the staffing capacity and organisational capability to ensure it generally meets its OIA obligations in a timely manner.
It is commendable that during the course of this investigation ACC started providing OIA training to all staff at induction. I have made a few suggestions to ensure additional OIA information is accessible for new staff when they start.
Regular OIA refresher training for staff occurred prior to the 2020 lockdown. I am pleased this OIA refresher training is being reinstated, and I note targeted OIA training was still available upon request. There did not appear to be any recent, OIA-specific training on decision making for senior leaders. I encourage ACC to provide OIA decision making training regularly because it will assist in the consistent application of OIA provisions across the organisation.
It is also commendable that during the course of this investigation ACC started providing information management and record keeping training to all staff at induction. Refresher training on information management and record keeping is self-directed, and promoted by ACC to all staff on a regular basis.
Action point: Organisation structure, staffing and capability
- Ensure targeted OIA training is provided to senior leaders and decision makers
Internal policies, procedures and resources
ACC’s OIA guidance documents are largely accurate and comprehensive. They are also clearly written and readily accessible to staff. However, I have identified some aspects, which could be improved. For example, there is little to no information about requests for internal decision making rules (section 22 of the OIA), and finding and collating the requested information.
Through the course of this investigation, I identified opportunities for ACC to improve the OIA policy and Guidance for declining official information documents, and I am pleased that ACC promptly effected these changes.
I am encouraged that ACC has a sound Proactive release of OIA responses policy, which covers most of the aspects I consider such a policy should have. I suggest the addition of two minor details to ensure the policy aligns with best practice. One is a commitment to releasing information in accessible and usable formats, and the other is a provision for regular review of the policy itself. Once updated, the Proactive release of OIA responses policy should be published on ACC’s website.
Information management and record keeping resources are robust, and are kept up-to-date through regular reviews.
Action points: Internal policies, procedures and resources
- Review and update OIA policies and procedures to include information on requests for internal decision making rules (section 22 of the OIA), and finding and collating the requested information
- Update the Proactive Release of OIA responses policy to include releasing information in accessible and usable formats, as well as a provision for regular review of the policy itself
- Publish the Proactive Release of OIA responses policy on the ACC’s website
ACC reported 98 percent of OIA requests were processed within the statutory timeframe for the period of 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020. During the 2020 lockdown, overall OIA practices were maintained.
ACC began proactively publishing select OIA responses on its website in the six-month period of 1 July 2020 to 31 December 2020. I encourage ACC to continue proactively releasing more OIA responses. Most of the proactively released OIA responses are PDF documents, but only some are searchable. In order to support accessibility and New Zealand’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ACC should ensure the text of all proactively released OIA responses are searchable and not ‘image only’, and all visual elements are tagged with alternative text.
There are a number of good practices ACC utilises when responding to OIA requests, and it generally exhibits a high level of overall compliance with the requirements of the OIA. Through the course of this investigation, I identified an opportunity for ACC to update the OIA Letter Response template to include wording to use if an OIA response will be proactively released on ACC’s website, and ACC promptly made this change.
When staff search for information on Te Pātaka (the information management system), sometimes they see folders or documents that exist, but which they do not have permission to access. While this can be catered for by seeking assistance from another staff member, a potential issue arises when staff searching for information cannot see folders or documents that exist. After receiving my provisional opinion, ACC confirmed staff are aware of their search limitations within Te Pātaka, and OIA requests requiring a full search Te Pātaka are undertaken by staff with full access to the system. ACC also confirmed that more than one staff member has full search access through the eDiscovery tool.
I am pleased ACC and Ministers’ offices understand the final decision maker on departmental OIA requests is ACC. During the course of my investigation, ACC developed a Guidance for dealing with OIA requests involving Ministers document to clarify when, and in what circumstances, decision makers will consult with Ministers’ offices on departmental OIA requests or notify Ministers’ offices of departmental OIA responses. ACC should consider publishing the Guidance for dealing with OIA requests involving Ministers on its OIA webpage. ACC should also ensure the Guidance for dealing with OIA requests involving Ministers and The GES OIA Process documents are consistent with each other, and ACC’s practices align with the guidance.
Requests to the Media team for information, which is held by ACC, are subject to the OIA, and therefore must be handled in accordance with its provisions. ACC should ensure my suggestions for the in-development guidance document, explaining how the Media team applies the principles of the OIA to media information requests, are incorporated. Once developed, I encourage ACC to publish this guidance on the OIA webpage.
ACC’s Media team failed to maintain records in an accessible form to enable use for subsequent reference. In my opinion, I consider this practice to be contrary to section 17(2) of the Public Records Act 2005. However, I have not made a formal recommendation in this instance because ACC advised immediate action is already being taken to address this deficiency. ACC is expanding access to the Microsoft Dynamics 365 (Dynamics) workflow tool to the Media team. I have included an action point to address this.
Through the course of this investigation, I identified an opportunity for ACC to ensure the right to complain to the Ombudsman is referenced in all responses when a media information request is fully or partially refused. ACC promptly effected this change after receiving my provisional opinion.
Targeted OIA training should be provided to the Media team to ensure they understand their obligations under the OIA. Also, changes in practice should be supported by messaging from senior leaders, reinforcing that requests for information handled by the Media team must adhere to the OIA.
Action points: Current practices
- Update The GES OIA process document to ensure it is consistent with the Guidance for dealing with OIA requests involving Ministers; and ensure ACC’s practices when interacting with Ministers on OIA requests aligns with its guidance
- Consider publishing the Guidance for dealing with OIA requests involving Ministers on the OIA webpage
- Ensure the in-development guidance document explaining how the Media team applies the provisions of the OIA to media information requests incorporates my suggestions, and publish this guidance on the OIA webpage
- Amend the Media team’s record keeping practices to ensure full and accurate records of substantive correspondence with requesters (including emails, telephone conversations, meetings and verbal discussions), and any material internal discussions and decisions, are created and maintained in an accessible form
- Provide targeted OIA training to the Media team to ensure they understand their obligations under the OIA
- Ensure messaging from senior leaders reinforces that requests for information handled by the Media team must adhere to the OIA
- Ensure the text of all PDF documents released are searchable and not ‘image only’, and all visual elements are tagged with alternative text
Performance monitoring and learning
I commend ACC for the extensive amount of OIA request data it collects and reports on, which includes information on OIA timeliness, emerging themes and trends, opportunities for improvement, resourcing, capacity and capability. From this data, a dashboard is presented to senior leaders at a fortnightly meeting. Two weekly reports also go to the ACC Board, senior leaders and key staff.
Staff involved in the OIA process circulate and learn from Ombudsman opinions and publications. Through the course of this investigation, I identified an opportunity for ACC to formalise this process through written guidance. ACC promptly effected this change after receiving my provisional opinion.
ACC could also lift its OIA performance by developing a quality assurance process to be used after OIA responses have been finalised.
Action point: Performance monitoring and learning
- Develop a quality assurance process after finalisation of OIA requests