Today’s consumers want to track granular details about their orders—from when their pizza went in the oven to how many stops away their package is. And they carry that expectation with them when they request public records. That’s why many cities, counties, and state agencies are turning to public records request tracking software: so that both requesters and internal personnel can see the status of requests with complete transparency.
In this blog, we’ll define public records tracking software and discuss its benefits for requesters and government agencies.
What Does Public Records Request Tracking Software Do?
Tracking the status of FOIA requests is one function of a public records software like JustFOIA. The dashboard shows the status of each request that a person is working on as it moves through the stages of the response process. As workers complete steps, a Workflow automatically updates the status on the dashboard and notifies the person responsible for the next task.
The tracking labels in JustFOIA can be configured to the exact steps that your agency takes when fulfilling a public records request. But most of our clients include statuses like:
- New Submission
- Pending Department Response
- Pending Legal Review
- Legal Review Complete
- Awaiting Payment
- Request Complete
Benefits of Records Tracking Software for State and Local Government Agencies
How does tracking the status of requests benefit you as a government worker?
- Less time fielding calls from requesters. Since requesters can see the status of their requests from the Public Portal, they don’t need to call you for updates. This leaves you free to concentrate on doing the work rather than continually updating about the work!
- Custom email notifications. You can choose which notifications JustFOIA emails to you. If you spend a lot of time in the system, you may choose to turn off email notifications because you’ll see them within the app. On the other hand, those who only work on requests intermittently will benefit from having notices sent to their email inbox, so they don’t miss them.
- Centralize communication. You won’t need to send as many emails back and forth between departments—where information can get lost—because it’s all housed within JustFOIA.
- Accountability. Since you can see the status of requests at a glance, it’s easy to hold staff members accountable for getting their part of the request done on time.
- Identify bottlenecks. JustFOIA’s robust analytics allow you to see how long each step of the process is taking so that you can find out where holdups are most often happening.
- Increase efficiency. All of this leads to a more efficient records request process with less hands-on time and a shorter delivery timeframe.
See how the City of Peoria, Illinois, used JustFOIA’s public records tracking features to improve internal communication and transparency.
Benefits of Public Records Tracking Software for Requesters
Investing in a public records request tracking software has several benefits for your requester, as well.
- Simpler intake. Required fields on JustFOIA Forms make it easy for requesters to provide all the information needed to fulfill the request.
- Automatic status updates. The requester receives automatic notifications about the status of their request. That means they don’t need to call your office or even repeatedly log into the system for updates.
- Notification if further action is needed. Similarly, the requester is notified if action is needed on their end, such as adding more information about the request or making a payment.
- Getting records faster. Public records tracking software speeds up the process of fulfilling requests on the agency’s side, meaning requesters get the records they need sooner.
- Improved trust in the process. When you create a transparent public records tracking process, your requester is reassured that you’re giving the request the attention it deserves.
Read how the City of Irving improved citizen satisfaction with JustFOIA.
Problems with Manual Public Records Tracking
On the other hand, if you don’t have a public records tracking software, you’re likely using a spreadsheet to manage incoming requests manually. This involves someone selecting the request’s current status from a drop-down menu—or sometimes even typing it in manually.
That leads to a number of concerns:
- Lost/missed communications. When information is spread through multiple email threads, it’s hard for the person responsible for the request to know exactly what’s going on.
- Inefficiencies. The spreadsheet method for tracking public records requests is time consuming and can lead to inefficiencies and delays, even missed deadlines.
- Manual errors. It’s easy to lose track of where you are on such a large spreadsheet, select the wrong option from the drop-down menu, or simply forget to update statuses.
- Lack of accountability. When request statuses aren’t tracked and communicated, it can create a murky situation where responsibilities are unclear.
These pitfalls can have negative consequences for your agency:
- Angry requesters
- Loss of reputation
- Public outrage
- Legal charges