NFOIC Announces Winners of 2020 FOI Research Competition



News Release

For Immediate Release –   September 10, 2020 

Contact: Daniel Bevarly, Executive Director

National Freedom of Information Coalition 352-294-7082


Nine winning research papers have been accepted to the second National Freedom of Information Coalition FOI research competition. The papers will be presented September 30, 2020, during the NFOIC National FOI Summit being held virtually this year. In all, 11 proposals were entered.

Some of the research findings include: 

  • A field experiment of 1,002 public record requests across nine states suggests the most transparent states are those with laws that hold their legislatures accountable, that have independent state FOI advocacy groups, and laws that do not specify copy fees.
  • An examination of different structures that provide oversight of public records laws in the U.S. and Canada, including what seems to work and what doesn’t.
  • A description of how death certificates and COVID records are made public – or not – through public record laws across the states.

Authors were invited to submit a one-page paper proposal, which was reviewed by a team of three judges, including two scholars and one FOI coalition leader. Proposals included a one-paragraph abstract/summary, a paragraph outlining the proposed methodology, and a paragraph explaining the relevance of the potential findings for government agencies, FOI advocates, and access practitioners (e.g., journalists, citizens, record custodians).

Proposals could encompass any research methodological approach (legal, survey, experimental, content analysis, etc.), to provide insights of practical value for those who work day-to-day in access to government information. Topics included issues regarding access to public records and meetings, court transparency, access to public employees and elected officials, open data and technology, and other related matters.

Judges rated the proposals based on importance, relevance to practitioners, and strength of methodology. Nine proposals were selected for presentation and nine authors submitted full papers. Another set of 12 blind reviewers rated the papers for selection of the top three, which receive prizes of $500, $300 and $200.

The top three papers are offered publication in the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information’s Journal of Civic Information, which welcomes submissions from all researchers. The Brechner Center is located in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida. Papers will be available on the NFOIC web site after September 14th and on the 2020 FOI Summit website.  The top three papers will be featured during a summit session on Wednesday, September 30th from 4:00 – 5:00 for summit attendees. Following the session, all the authors will have their own breakout room to discuss their work and answer questions.

The top three papers to be presented in a panel session at the National FOI Summit are:

  1. Inherent frictions and deliberate frustrations: Examining the legal variables of state FOI law administration,” by A.Jay Wagner, Marquette University ($500 prize)
  2. Born to fail: Canada’s Access to Information Act reforms, and the global lessons for a meaningful right to information,” by Michael Karanicolas, Yale ($300 prize)
  3. Freedom of the database: Auditing access to structured data,” by Jonathan Anderson, University of Minnesota, and Sarah Kay Wiley, University of Minnesota ($200 prize)

Additional winning papers (in author alphabetical order) to be presented in a virtual “poster session” at 5:00 pm (ET) following the session on September 30th include: