Freedom of Information (FOI) as a data collection tool for social scientists

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This paper evaluates a method of generating a unique dataset that has been underused—a Freedom of Information (FOI) request. The UK’s FOI Act came into force in 2005, allowing the public to make requests of publicly held data. We set out to understand the determinants of the quality responses to FOI requests. We also explain how requests can be made and provide suggestions to construct effective data-driven requests. We applied for data on hate crime from all police forces and on uptake of maternity leave from all universities. We find that observable characteristics of the local area, police force and universities neither determine whether the request was fulfilled, nor the speed of response, suggesting that the data from these FOI requests are representative of the institutions from which they were requested.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0228392
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Clifton-Sprigg et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry,Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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