FOI: The clown FOI which is a masterclass in getting information from a database

Of all the sources I use to find good Freedom of Information-based stories,  funny site The Poke isn’t among them. I do, however, follow them on Twitter, so when this tweet came up, it was like they’d invented personalised linkbait just for me:

thepokeClowns have been in the news quite a bit recently, largely thanks to this quirky FOI-based story which cropped up all over the place over Christmas. And there are problems in the Fens too.

Anyway, that prompted Richard Osley, the deputy editor of the Camden New Journal to submit a request to the Met Police in London. You can read his post here.

The response from the Met is at this link. I’m highlighting this FOI because I think it’s a brilliant example of how to get the most out of a databse you know a public authority holds:


While the response is exactly what it should be: The information requested, in full, in an easy to use way:

clowns2Asking for a specific key word to be searched reduces the risk of the FOI going over cost limits, and also reduces the chance of you missing out on information you might find interesting, or making the FOI impossible.

For example, when working at the Liverpool Daily Post, I once asked for details of all crimes at schools in Merseyside. The police said it couldn’t provide that detail within the cost limit because it would have to filter out any crime which was committed at an address – eg School Lane – but not at a school. Flipping that on its head and asking for any case referring to ‘school’ would have solved that.

Of course, there are other famous ‘database’ FOIs too. As anyone who has sat through one of my FOI presentations knows only too well!


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