At a meeting of Hacks/Hackers Canterbury on Monday, Nicola Hughes, a Knight-Mozilla fellow working at the Guardian, was asked a question about how to best get hold of a spreadsheet containing data when using the Freedom of Information Act.
Hughes explained that if the data exists as a spreadsheet or CSV file, the authority is obliged to make it available.
If a council or public body responds by stating it cannot release the data as some is confidential (details of those in foster care, for example), a request can be made to find out what details are in the database or spreadsheet and the person digging for information can then tailor their request to exclude the confidential information.
Ask for the “schema, name and footnotes” and the relationship between them, Hughes said, and then you can ask for what you are interested in.
For more on how to submit and FoI request see this guide.
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