Complexity of Fulfilling Public Records Requests at Highest Level Since 2018, Says GovQA PiPRIndex Second-Quarter Report

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Trends can help state and local government agencies make decisions about budgeting, staffing and technology investments

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The PiPRIndex highlights important trends affecting state, county and city governments and quantifies these changes over time

The complexity of fulfilling public records requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is at its highest level since 2018, according to GovQA’s 2021 second quarter Peers in Public Records Index (PiPRIndex). Overall complexity is up 153% since 2018, due in part to an increase in file sizes and request volumes. The PiPRIndex is the only index quantifying FOIA requests for state and local government.

“Managing requests for public records is getting harder as agencies deal with a flood of increasingly complex requests,” said Jennifer Snyder, chief evangelist for GovQA. “Some state and local government agencies are getting more requests for FOIA information in the last three months than they have in the past three years.”

GovQA is now part of Granicus, which connects governments with the people they serve by providing the first and only civic engagement platform for the public sector.

Even with the use of automation to streamline processes, agencies are spending a whopping 931% more time responding to requests. “Those numbers are likely much higher for agencies still managing FOIA requests through spreadsheets and other manual processes,” said Snyder.

Public records available under FOIA are far-ranging and can include body-worn camera footage, 911 call audio files, traffic crash reports, restaurant license inspection results, city council meeting minutes and other state and local government documents.

Other 2021 PiPRIndex findings include:
●    Public records request volumes are up 57% since 2018 and 48% in the past year.
●    Average file size is up 265% since 2018 and 70% in the past year. This is significant because large files generally take more time to manage within an agency’s public records processing system.
●    The average number of video files processed increased 43% in the past year.
●    The number of optical character reader (OCR) documents and pdfs processed rose 48% in the past year, an indicator that many agencies are still working with paper or files which are not readily searchable in their native format.

“Annual request volumes can vary from agency to agency, but in general, the larger the agency, the higher the request volume,” said Snyder. She added that a populous state, county, or city agency can have 4,000 to 15,000 or more public records requests submitted each year. A smaller city or county agency might have 100 or fewer public records requests annually. High profile events (such as officer-involved shootings) can trigger a surge in public records requests for any affected agency.

How the PiPRIndex Works
Since it launched in 2020, GovQA’s quarterly PiPRIndex has become the standard for measuring growth in FOIA (public/open records) requests for state and local government. GovQA is the leading provider of cloud-based automated workflow (SaaS) software for governments and is singularly positioned to provide actionable data for the public records industry. The company serves over 110 of the largest 300 U.S. cities, 45 percent of top U.S. counties, and more than 80 state agencies.

To create the PiPRIndex, GovQA identified approximately 240 member agencies representing the most common records request experiences across the nation. Member organizations include 25% state agencies, 20% counties, and 55% cities. The PiPRIndex quantifies changes in complexity of public records from “peers” across the U.S. on a quarterly basis and is adjusted for volume.

GovQA’s PiPRIndex tracks two dimensions of complexity: records and activities. Records complexity includes elements such as the quantity and size of response documents or files, and the type of file, with special focus on video and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) files. Activities complexity includes markers for average user interactions, clarification emails and total time spent to complete a record request.

How PiPRIndex Data Can Help State and Local Governments
“The PiPRIndex highlights important trends affecting state, county and city governments and quantifies these changes over time,” said Snyder. “These trends are useful for making important decisions regarding budgets, staffing levels and strategic technology investments.”

The PiPRIndex data can also help agencies compare their experience with peer organizations and measure the impact of significant events on public records request volumes and complexity.

A copy of the most recent PiPRIndex can be downloaded from the GovQA website, along with an infographic about the PiPRIndex.

About GovQA
GovQA is part of Granicus, which connects governments with the people they serve by providing the first and only civic engagement platform for the public sector. GovQA is the leading provider of cloud-based SaaS automated workflow solutions for government compliance. Customers use our software to more easily process and manage public records and information requests from citizens, the media, and other government offices. With 20 years’ experience in advanced technology for government agencies, GovQA combines trusted tools and security, proven government expertise, and a scalable platform that enables cities, counties, and state agencies to securely collect and control time-sensitive information within, across, and outside governments. GovQA’s proprietary Peers in Public Records (PiPR) Index is the only index that tracks trends in public records for state and local governments. GovQA is headquartered outside of Chicago with coverage across the United States. Visit http://www.govqa.com for more information.

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