FOIL review methodology

Beginning on Dec. 12, 2014, The New York World and MuckRock filed a total of 344 Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests to 86 separate agencies across New York.

Each agency received the same four requests:

  • a list of employees
  • a log of FOIL requests
  • a list of records maintained by the agency (often referred to as the subject matter listing)
  • a copy of the agency’s FOIL regulations

Most requests were filed electronically via email or through an agency’s online request form. In some cases requests were physically mailed to the agency.

Requests were sent to each police department, school district, and the office of the mayor for municipal jurisdictions outside New York City.

All of the requests were managed and tracked through MuckRock’s online records request management system.

The NYW/MuckRock team then designed a system to assess the effectiveness of each agency’s response against peer organizations. Points (0-10) were assigned based on the timeliness of response, whether or not the records were produced, the amount each agency charged to produce the requested documents, and the format of the records produced.

The points earned in each category were then totaled, and letter grades were assigned based on each organization’s overall performance. The grades are based on the status of requests as of June 15. Several agencies have provided requested documents since that date, in most cases after a reporter sought comment on the agency’s FOIL process.

Because state and local agencies often have dramatically different resources available to respond to open records requests, each agency’s performance was graded only against that of similar entities. That means that state, New York City and local governmental entities were graded as three distinct groups and not compared to one another. In addition, each of the 10 local jurisdictions outside of New York City that was included in the project was given a single letter grade for the combined performance of the police department, school district and the mayor’s office.

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