As we mentioned in a previous blog post, we are running a coverage of how the Armedia FOIA Module helps companies use open source software like ArkCase in their case management needs.
In this series, we are reviewing how agencies should handle FOIA requests following the FOIA Guidelines Document and how the Armedia’s FOIA Module for ArkCase is helping teams nationwide to handle the immense workload in handling FOIA requests.
What is the Number 1 FOIA Challenge We’re Tackling?
The traditional, paper-based process of organizing and processing FOIA requests is a slow and complex procedure even for the most organized and well-structured agencies. Classifying all the requests into categories and lists requires a lot of time and resources from any department. Adding to this complexity the need for multiple points of contact between an agency employee and the person requesting information, makes the whole FOIA process a daunting proposition.
Armedia has built a FOIA Module as an add-on to ArkCase, a flexible open-source case management system that is expandable to any scenario (form processing being one of them). As a case in point, our FOIA Module builds on the stable structure of ArkCase. Let’s take a high-level glance at how FOIA requests should be processed, and how our FOIA Module is using the open structure of ArkCase to offer full compliancy with point-and-click functionality.
Submitting FOIA Requests Online
When using the paper-based solution, submitting and documenting the FOIA requests is one of the biggest blockers to the whole FOIA request process. It requires a huge storage for document archiving and specially educated employees to maintain the daily tasks (and to prevent your organization from documentation chaos).
The Armedia FOIA Module for ArkCase addresses this blocker by allowing you to use Request forms already configured for data capture. The module then uses the ArkCase data management features for submitting and tracking each FOIA request. The FOIA Module provides a fast way of processing the requests using point-and-click user interface (no coding required).
This means that if you utilize ArkCase through our Armedia FOIA Module, you get some very important advantages like:
- Your organization uses existing technologies (Internet-ready computers already at desks of clerks).
- Your organization can very easily abandon paper-based form submission altogether, further improving your organization’s EPA compliance.
- All the form submissions are stored using compliant technologies for data storage and control of access.
- Your organization can be completely hands-off of maintaining this technology stack as Armedia updates and maintains both ArkCase and the FOIA Module.
There are other benefits, of course, but we are mentioning only a few here.
Submitting Appeals Online
Once a requester uses the Armedia FOIA Module to submit a request, ArkCase takes care of all the key points of user input. People who submitted a FOIA request that was denied can use the Armedia FOIA system to submit an appeal—the module handles the new user entry, attaches it to the existing request, and all involved parties are notified of the newest case update.
This is a great example of how a very specific use case can be handled by case management. The Development team at Armedia built this FOIA Module on the strengths of the ArkCase Case Management, which interprets each FOIA Request as a Case.
Providing Automatic Status Updates
One of the big issues that organizations face when completing FOIA requests is how to keep everyone up to date with developments of each request. In a paper-based world, the information requester would have to wait the time it takes for the form to be processed by a clerk, then followed up by the department head, then forwarded to a decision maker. This same road would move the answered request from the decision maker to the information seeker (not to mention the all-to-real possibility of a misplaced request or some other human error).
The good thing about seeing this process from a case management perspective is that we are looking at an almost unchanging process with several points of data entry and a predictable outcome. ArkCase already has built-in conditional triggers that the Armedia FOIA Module is using nicely. Every time a clerk pushes a FOIA Request forward for review, a Reviewer gets notified by the system. Any time the Reviewer processes a form, the person in charge of that case can get a notification. And, at each case status update, ArkCase makes a log entry saying who did what and when. With the Armedia FOIA Module, there is little room for human error as the forms are all pre-set, and the workflow is pre-configured. (System administrators will be able to edit the forms and the workflows, using point and click configurator.)
Communicating with Requesters
The whole point of the FOIA Act is to give citizens a view into their government. The FOIA Act establishes for the government a system to pass information to the people.
Armedia’s FOIA Module sets up this workflow in such a way that whenever a government employee needs extra information for a FOIA request, all that is required is to type a message and click the “Notify Requester” button. ArkCase will automatically tag the details of the request and create an email to the person who submitted that request. The clerk does not even need to know the email address of the person.
A Step Further: Online Data Storage
Storing paper-based forms is another problem. It requires a huge climate-controlled vault for storing all the documents in different categories, and, even then, agencies will struggle with organizing and accessing the FOIA requests.
Our team at Armedia decided to rely on ArkCase and its use of Alfresco for content management. ArkCase basically creates the bridge between Alfresco and the Armedia FOIA Module, so end users will not need to worry about what happens to each FOIA request. ArkCase handles all that! Armedia’s FOIA Module makes sure all the right data is captured properly and that there is a proper workflow for receiving, processing, updating and closing any FOIA request. The FOIA Module builds on top of Alfresco for data storage. It manages who gets access to that stored data, and under what circumstances. So, without even trying, you get optimized data storage processes and the elimination of information silos.
When using ArkCase coupled with our FOIA Module, you get several benefits:
- Simplified FOIA requests data capture
- Pre-set business process management
- Worry-free data storage and retrieval
The FOIA Guidelines Document casts the vision of having all forms and data stored online. Armedia’s FOIA Module is here to help!
Let’s Wrap Up
Perhaps you are looking to streamline the workflow of handling FOIA requests. Or maybe you need help in structuring a department or organizing employees for handling FOIA requests. Whatever it is, it’s a lot of work to do yourself.
If you can view FOIA requests as cases, then ArkCase offers the infrastructure needed for case management, and Armedia’s FOIA Module helps you put the right functionality in front of the right people. This tool provides the full technology stack and, thanks to the built-in business processes, makes sure that your department is functioning properly.
We want to hear from you.
- What are your department’s greatest FOIA challenges?
- How can the Armedia FOIA Module streamline the process even more? Any suggestions?
Let us know below. Please share this article with your colleagues on LinkedIn or Facebook.
Access All FOIA Principles:
- FOIA Principle 1: Expand Proactive Online Disclosures
- FOIA Principle 2: Use The Internet To Process Requests More Effectively Using Armedia FOIA Module
- FOIA Principle 3: Acknowledge And Track FOIA Request Promptly Using Armedia’s Module
- FOIA Principle 4: Clearly And Proactively Communicate With Requests
- FOIA Principle 5: Prevent The Destruction From Records And Apply A Presumption Of Disclosure
- FOIA Principle 6: Streamline And Limit Confidential Business Information Claims
- FOIA Principle 7: Clarify Fees And Waiver Procedures
- FOIA Principle 8: Improve Dispute Resolution And Administrative Appeals