What is a FOIA Request? 6 Steps to Fulfill & Addressing Common Hurdles


foia-request-cover-imageImage courtesy of DCRA.

In accordance to the Freedom of Information Act, FOIA requests grant the public and media rights to access records held by Government departments, such as federal agency records. As discussed by Collabware CEO Graham Sibley during his CollabCast session (which you can access free), the FOIA is "vital to achieving transparency within democratic governments" and requests must be met by government agencies to ensure compliance of information and privacy laws.

This is why it is critical for government   agencies to process and fulfill their FOI requests as efficiently and effectively as possible.

The issue? There are some major challenges that agencies face when it comes to fulfilling FOI requests.

Today, we're listing these challenges and how to address them. But  for a more in-depth look and demonstration of how these can be addressed from a technical standpoint, we've provided the three CollabCast sessions which cover and demonstrate this for all levels of government, the energy sector and other highly regulated industries. You can access and listen to these on-demand  below for free, or check out our Government Information Kit.

Now let's get into it.

6 Steps of the FOI Process

Before outlining the challenges, let's look at the overall process.

Getting information to the people takes more work behind the scenes then simply finding and sharing the information. Graham broke the typical process into six steps:

1. Request is submitted to a coordinator

2. Coordinator reaches out to internal staff to search for and provide related-information

3. Coordinator "herds cats" to ensure requests are being fulfilled

4. Coordinator compiles provided materials into package

5. The package is review and any sensitive or unnecessary info is redacted

6. Coordinator provides package to requesting party

Top 3 Challenges  of  FOI Requests

To fulfill all six steps, agencies often run into at least one of the following challenges along the way...

1. Human Error

It comes as no surprise that humans are really, really busy. We are also prone to error. For these reasons, searching for certain data can take teams a lot of time and the final package might not include all the relevant information due to mishaps along the way.

2. Lack of Technology

Within most organizations, information is widely spread out. Some data is electronic, some comes in paper form. Different factors come into play depending on the type of record, but with electronic most systems can only handle basic search. For example,  using  FileShares or SharePoint, users cannot search across systems or for different content formats such as image, audio, video, etc.

Sometimes, the search function is not accurate enough to find information that is relevant to that request. For example, in the cases when the records have not been properly titled or contain relevant information within scanned PDFs.

3. Not all Systems Can Preserve Records

If  the systems used don't contain the records, how will the requests be fulfilled? (Hint: they won't  be, at least not fully). Many systems lack capability to properly store and discover certain content types.

During the current pandemic situation, the challenge with this is greater than ever because more people are at home and trying to access information from systems that do not support storing all content types.

How to  Address These Challenges

1. Increase Efficiency

The secret to making FOIA requests less prone to human error? Helping the humans out with automation. By implementing systems that provide greater automation, it is faster and more accurate to search for information.

Using a cloud solution like Collabspace, users can take advantage of AI for advanced content  sourcing and discovery for expedited processing.

2. Store all Content and Increase Search Accuracy

If agencies use a data lake, they can stream in content from across systems (File Shares, Outlook, SharePoint, etc.) to search for their information from one place. Using a solution like Collabspace, there are options such as Advanced Search, Search Templates and Optimal Character Recognition (OCR) so it is quick and simple to find all types of relevant content- including images, scanned pdf, audio and video. 

By using Collabspace, one of our clients cut FOI processing time down from weeks to minutes. Read about it here.

3. Decrease Costs

Did you know that in 2015, the US Federal Government spent $450 million dollars on content discovery?

Yes, you read that correctly. $450 MILLION. On just discovery. With the number of steps, time and people: this is unsurprising.

But using the proper tools and automation, this once-intimidating task of fulfilling FOI requests can be narrowed down from teams into a single person. And by searching across systems from one place, the time spent is cut down so they can quickly fulfill the request and get on with their day.


Are you reading this post, relating to these challenges and thinking:  wow, I could really benefit from simplifying the FOIA request process at my organization? You can find out more and view a demo on how this can be put into action by  listening to our  CollabCast sessions, or download our Government Information Kit:

Collabcast: Local Govt FOI

Collabcast: Federal Govt FOI

Collabcast: Energy FOI


Access Government Info Kit

Want to learn more or have some questions for us? Check out our blog or contact us:



Tagged: Collabspace, Discovery, Government

Related posts

Recent Posts