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The Conflicts of Working With Reviews: One Analyst’s Perspective

December 2, 2014 - Melanie Coyle, Analyst

I am a pleaser. Sorry for the psychobabble, but it’s true. So I have no idea why I have a job, where, when it comes to reviews, 99% of the time I have to choose sides.

On one hand, when I find that an exemption applies I feel bad for the applicant. After all, I have just spent a few weeks working with that person and listening to his/her concerns and goals. Most of the time, the goal is outside the scope of the mandate of this office. Access to information is just a necessary step to reach that goal.

On the other hand, when I find that an exemption does not apply, I feel bad for the FOIP Coordinator. First, it is likely someone I work with on a regular basis. He/she probably spent a large amount of time preparing the record and laying out the arguments. After all of that effort, I have to disagree.

I then think more about FOIP Coordinators. They must have the same challenges as me. But, if I think I have it bad, FOIP Coordinators must have it worse. On one hand they are public servants and must have a strong sense of duty to help individuals wanting access to information to meet their goals. On the other hand, the organization they work for may have other interests and not want information released. It must be difficult to have to navigate between the applicants’ needs and the interests of their own team. Especially if they have to stand up to those who have influence over their performance reviews.

In the past five years that I have been in this role, I have thought about this topic a lot. I think my desire to please everyone makes me a better analyst. This inner struggle helps keep me unbiased in the performance of my duties. But how do I cope? The following strategies have worked for me in dealing with my disappointment that I can’t please all of the people all of the time.

Research: It makes me feel better about making the tough decisions when I know that they are based on solid research and that I have explored every facet of the issue. It is especially necessary now because the new Commissioner uses the Socratic method of leadership and I have to be ready for his tough, probing questions.

Anonymity: As I mentioned earlier, it’s hard for me not to feel compassion for the applicants with whom I deal. However, when I present the case to the Director of Compliance and the Commissioner for final approval, I very rarely mention the name of the applicant to them. This is partly because I am pretty bad with remembering names. But mostly it is because it shouldn’t matter. FOIP, LAFOIP and HIPA place no weight on the identity of the applicant. Neither should we.

Motives: Just as the identity of the applicant shouldn’t matter, neither should their motives. What is the difference if the applicant would like closure on an issue that matters to them or would like to write an exposé on the inner workings of government? In my opinion any public engagement strengthens our society. The only caveat is it is sometimes beneficial to ask about motives to narrow the scope of a broad request. However, I always explain why I am asking and mention that they do not have to share it with me.

The Acts are my Masters: Finally, my number one coping mechanism is to consider the Act I am dealing with the thing I really should please. To make sure it is being applied correctly for its intended purpose. Granted, our Acts are a bit outdated and sometimes I feel the decisions I make are not adequate for 2014. It’s kind of like wearing an ugly sweater your grandma gave you just to please her. Nevertheless, I feel everyone is best served if the Acts are applied consistently and fairly.

It’s just too bad the Acts don’t do performance reviews!

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